Marengo experienced one of its best seasons in program history in 2018-19, finishing 24-7, sharing the Kishwaukee River Conference title with Burlington Central (now in the Fox Valley Conference) and capturing back-to-back regional titles for the first time since 1996 and 1997.
Marengo, however, was hit hard by graduation, losing the area's leading scorer in Marissa Knobloch (19.8 ppg, 81 3-pointers), now a freshman at NCAA Division II Indianapolis, and do-everything forward Hannah Ritter (6.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.8 apg), along with four other seniors.
Marengo coach Nick Rode expected a learning curve, but his team has come out strong at 6-3.
"We're off to a great start," Rode said after an early-season victory against Prairie Ridge at the Burlington Central Thanksgiving Tournament. "From a coach's standpoint, watching each game, our kids are playing hard. The biggest thing for me is I want us playing hard and clean basketball, and I'm seeing a lot of hard work."
Junior Jennifer Heinberg (10.8 ppg, 64 3s last season) and senior Jordan Parker (10.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg last season) are both back for Marengo and are two of the conference's most impactful players. Junior guard Lilly Johnson also has stepped up in a starting role.
What Rode didn't expect was the arrival of two new players: sophomore Gracie Gentleman and junior Kierra Morris, a 5-foot-11 forward. Gentleman transferred from St. Viator and Morris from Morton.
Both have provided big minutes and production for the Indians.
"There's definitely a lot of learning involved, but at practice, everyone gives their 110 percent," said Parker, a four-year varsity starter. "I'm not really surprised we have this record. Everybody plays well together. No one is selfish.
"Gracie and Kierra are definitely big assets for us. Kierra is our height, and we're not really used to that. Typically, we are undersized. Gracie, she's extremely fast. They help us out a lot."
Big-time buzz: Harvard went 3-23 last season and won only five games combined over the past four seasons. The Hornets already have matched that total with five wins in their first eight games this season, including a four-game winning streak.
Harvard lost its KRC opener to Woodstock North last week. The Hornets haven't won a game in the KRC since the conference formed in 2016-17. Harvard's last conference win was during the 2014-15 season when the Hornets were part of the Big Northern Conference East Division.
NORTHWEST HERALD POWER RANKINGS
1. Dundee-Crown (6-0): Perhaps noarea team boasts more depth than the Chargers, with three four-year varsity players (Payton Schmidt, Katelyn Skibinski and Cassidy Randl) and two three-year varsity players (Alyssa Crenshaw and Gianine Boado). D-C and Burlington Central, ranked third in the first Associated Press Class 3A poll, are two of the favorites in the 10-team FVC.
2. Hampshire (5-3): The Whip-Purs graduated five seniors from last year’s FVC champion, but leading scorer Kelby Bannerman (12.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg last season), a 6-foot-1 junior forward with multiple NCAA Division I offers, was not one of them. Freshman guard Ceili Ramirez has given Hampshire another scoring option early.
3. McHenry (5-1): The Warriors lost their conference opener to Hampshire but should be in the mix for the FVC title, two years removed from winning it outright. Junior forward Katie Beyer, who recently was voted Northwest Herald Female Athlete of the Week, is off to a huge start, averaging 20 points and 14 rebounds a game.
4. Huntley (3-3): The Red Raiders earned an impressive win against Hononegah, last year's Class 4A third-place finisher, at D-C's Thanksgiving Tournament and welcome back Raquel Radermacher and Madison Wash, who missed their entire sophomore years with ACL injuries. Junior Kamsi Nwogu was one of the area's biggest breakout players last season, averaging 15.7 points a game.
5. Crystal Lake South (3-3): The Gators already are halfway to last season's FVC win total after defeating Prairie Ridge, 47-23, and Hampshire, 58-51. South has finished with seven wins total in each of the past two seasons. Early results point to a possible turnaround at the Swamp.
WHAT TO WATCH
Crystal Lake South at Huntley, 7 p.m. Friday: The Gators and Raiders meet in FVC play.
Northern Illinois Holiday Classic: The 16-team event begins Saturday and features nine area teams with McHenry and Richmond-Burton hosting. Marian Central beat Marengo in last season's championship game.