Coming off its first 20-win season under coach Sarah Miller, Dundee-Crown is ready to hit the ground running.
"They're a very tough group that all share the same goal of wanting to win and doing it together," said Miller, going into her seventh year. "There are no individuals. We're 11 deep. It's just, 'Let’s put it all on the floor and not waste time."
The Chargers, who went 23-9 last year and were runners-up to Hampshire in the Fox Valley Conference, going 14-2, opened the season Tuesday against St. Viator in D-C's Thanksgiving Tournament.
D-C graduated one starter and returns an experienced team of eight seniors and three juniors. That mix, and the familiarity between players, has Miller and the Chargers excited for the new season.
"The special thing about this team is that they're all upperclassmen," Miller said. "I've never had that before. There’s this chemistry that's already there because they’ve been playing together for so long. It really brings a different sense of confidence and desire. It’s been very competitive and fun."
Seniors Payton Schmidt, Katelyn Skibinski (9.5 points a game) and Cassidy Randl enter their fourth season on varsity. Randl missed her entire junior year with a torn ACL but was on varsity as a freshman, along with Schmidt and Skibinski.
Junior forward Alyssa Crenshaw and junior guard Gianine Boado each enter their third year as varsity starters. Crenshaw was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team pick as a sophomore and led the Chargers with 10.2 points and 8.9 rebounds a game.
"We’ve all been working together since feeder leagues, sixth and seventh grade," said Schmidt, who averaged 10 points a game and made 100 free throws. "We have this connection that a lot of teams don’t have. Our mindset is to play every game like it’s our last."
With so much experience returning, the Chargers are expected to be among the top contenders for the FVC championship. D-C has finished second in each of the past two seasons and last won the conference title in 2017, when the Chargers shared the championship with Hampshire, Huntley and Cary-Grove.
The Chargers' approach is one play at a time.
"We have the confidence and skills to go far, but we can’t let that get to our heads," said Boado, who averaged nine points and three assists a game. "Everybody is really excited to get started."
McHenry won the FVC title in 2018 and figures to be in the mix again, led by Valparaiso commit Ava Interrante (14.1 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.6 spg), and juniors Katie Beyer and Ashley Wachter.
Huntley made big strides at the end of last season and returns junior center Kamsi Nwogu, who was second in the area at 15.7 points a game. Hampshire again should be tough with junior forward Kelby Bannerman (12.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg), an All-Area first-team pick with multiple Division I offers.
Joining the 10-team FVC this year is Burlington Central, which shared the Kishwaukee River Conference title last season with Marengo. As with D-C, the Rockets return plenty of experience. Five of six seniors enter their fourth year on varsity.
"I think it’s going to raise the level of play in our conference, just bringing in another team that's going to compete hard every day," Miller said. "Our conference is going to be very tough again."
The Chargers enjoyed a productive and busy summer, winning the Palatine Summer League and Auburn Battle of the Castle Shootout. D-C was runner-up at the DeKalb Shootout and ended with a team trip to UCLA, where the Chargers went 4-0.
The wins were nice, Crenshaw said, but bonding with teammates was the biggest highlight.
"Being on the bus and airplanes and spending a lot of time together in hotels, we were kind of with each other every day this summer," Crenshaw said. "I think that just brought us a lot closer together."
Last season ended for D-C with a heartbreaking loss to Crystal Lake Central in the Class 4A Cary-Grove Regional final. That loss stung, Miller said, but it's not something they're going to revisit.
"Failures happen, you grow, you deal, and you move on," Miller said. "We need each other, and we really stress that family culture here. I'm just excited to see them feed off each other, have a lot of fun, and play as a team."