Placing in the state finals always raises expectations within a program.
On top of coming off a fourth-place finish in Class 4A last year, the Huntley girls basketball team opens this season owning a No. 9 ranking in the Associated Press Class 4A poll. But despite their recent success, the Red Raiders have their sights set this season on an achievement no team has accomplished: winning the program’s first Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title.
Crystal Lake South doesn't plan to let that happen, at least not without a fight. The Gators, an upstart team a year ago, represent Huntley's toughest roadblock for that elusive title.
"We have so many threats when it comes to offense and defense," senior forward Sara Mickow said. "I think all the girls on the floor at any time are confident enough to put the ball in the basket, and I feel that's a really big advantage for us because it makes teams worry about all five of us."
South, which also returns four starters like Huntley, is one of the few teams able to match the Red Raiders’ firepower in the post. Led by Mickow and junior forward Carly Nolan, as well as versatile 5-foot-9 guard Chanel Fanter, South is primed to capture its first division title since 2008.
Gators coach Kyle McCaughn said, in his mind, his team is still chasing Huntley and Cary-Grove until the Gators prove otherwise.
“Of course I'm very excited about what's in front of us," McCaughn said. " ... If we can have four kids in double digits and play unselfish basketball, we're going to be tough to beat. But once again, we're on the outside looking in. We haven't won a conference championship in a long time."
The combination of Huntley forwards Sam Andrews, a senior, and Ali Andrews, a sophomore, will present plenty of issues for opposing defenses. Together the duo averaged more than 30 points per game last season.
“It’s really exciting looking at this team and seeing where we could go,” Ali Andrews said. “If we work hard in practice and take it game by game we’ll see how it all works out.”
Nobody is overlooking C-G, which has won four consecutive FVC Valley titles including three outright. Although the Trojans need to replace much of their scoring production from last year, a healthy Katie Barker is one reason coach Rod Saffert is optimistic this season. Still, it appears the road to a FVC Valley title goes through Huntley and Crystal Lake South.
“We’ve just got to be concerned about us,” Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. “We can’t be concerned about what other teams are doing and those type of things. We’ve got to control what we can control and that’s working to get better each day.”
In the FVC Fox, Grayslake Central and Grayslake North are eager to retain their recent dominance in the division. Between the two schools, the Rams and Knights have won the past three FVC Fox titles. Grayslake North went undefeated in division play last season and returns two key players, Kendall Detweiler and Brittney Thibeaux. An experienced Crystal Lake Central squad and Woodstock North, which had its best season in school history last year, pose the greatest threats.
Richmond-Burton, Marengo and Harvard will have a hard time preventing Burlington Central from finishing atop the Big Northern Conference East Division. Burlington Central features a talented group of sophomores, many of whom played a lot of minutes on varsity last year as freshmen.