The first state poll for girls won’t be released until Nov. 19, but St. Thomas More has proven it’s a Class 2A power on the state scene and should be ranked very high. From last season’s state runner-up team, the Sabers return All-Area Player of the Year Randa Harshbarger as well as the nation’s top sophomore recruit, Tori McCoy, who recently received a scholarship offer from Baylor. Three-sport All-Area first-teamer Lexi Wallen is another of the key returnees. It’s hard to predict a season record for the team because coach Chris Mennig elevated the nonconference schedule to heights never before seen by an area school.
St. Thomas More will open its season the day the polls are released at Neuqua Valley in Naperville. Before this month is out, the team will play at Oak Park Fenwick. There will be a December visit to Chicago Whitney Young, and the team will greet February and Mother McAuley to town on the same day. In recent history (since the 1999-2000 school year), Young has won two state titles, placed second twice and third three times. Fenwick, too, has a couple of state crowns, plus a runner-up finish, and Neuqua has a second- and a third-place state performance. McAuley was in the state finals twice in the 1990s, winning once. Look for a banner season from the Sabers.
It’s difficult to get a good read on all of the area’s top boys’ teams, with two notable exceptions. Monday was the first day of practice, and the picture will start becoming clearer soon. Coach Tim Lavin’s Centennial team, in Class 3A, will be one squad to watch. Not only does UI recruit Michael Finke return (he signs a letter of intent Wednesday) but point guard Dedric Byrd is also a returning All-Area first-teamer.
Among Class 2A schools, St. Joseph-Ogden returns two of its three double-figure scorers from last season’s fourth-place state team. Brent Schluter and Nate Michael will again be two catalysts, but there’s a deep and strong supporting cast. The Spartans may not be at full strength early as football players will miss at least this week’s practices, but creative scheduling could help. SJ-O will bypass Thanksgiving week tournaments and doesn’t play a game until Dec. 3.
There won’t be any gimmes in the early schedule. Twice in the first five days of games, coach Brian Brooks’ squad will play an opponent away from home with a returning All-Area first-teamer (Salt Fork’s Max Stutsman on Dec. 3 and Monticello’s Nick Stokowski on Dec. 7). An interesting team to follow will be Champaign Central, in its first year under the direction of former UI assistant coach Wayne McClain.