After losing a significant senior nucleus from a Sweet 16 team, Sherrard girls' basketball coach Doug Swanson was hoping the opening week of the 2012-13 season would help his team find its collective feet.|
Playing five games as part of the Sauk Valley Shootout -- including home dates with another Class 2A sectional finalist, Rock Falls, as well as Sterling Newman -- the Tigers made the most of their opportunity. They ran the table to go 5-0 and capture first place.
"We got five games out of it, all against some great programs,'' said Swanson, who returns just five letterwinners from a 26-5 squad that came up a bucket shy of advancing to the Elite Eight last winter. "Those were some good teams for us to get tested with. We knew we had to be ready to go right away.''
Buoyed by the starting nucleus of senior guards Carly Adams and Erin Barton, senior forward Annie Winston and junior forwards Riley Strandgard and Shelby Calderone, Sherrard won four of its five Sauk games by an average of nearly 22 points. The Tigers' closest win was a 49-42 decision over Newman.
Another area power getting off to a fast start was Class 1A Elite Eight qualifier Annawan, which went 4-0 to take its second straight Temple's Tip-Off Classic championship.
While the junior nucleus of forward Celina VanHyfte and guard Megan Foes helped generate the offense, defense was as much a calling card for the Bravettes over the past week. Their closest game was a 63-50 win over Orion; in two other games, Annawan held its opponents to 14 and 15 points.
"There's always some nerves,'' Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz said of the first week, "but all of the teams have to deal with that.''
Also running the table in tournament play, this time at Princeton, was Erie. Switching to Princeton from the Geneseo-based Temple's gathering, the Cardinals also went 4-0 and utilized balanced scoring and a stifling defense to capture first place.
The senior duo of forwards Desirae Lawson and Paige Rus, combined with junior guard Courtney Cobert and freshman guard Peyton Rus, fueled an Erie attack that was light on double-figure scorers but heavy on various individuals showing a knack for putting the ball in the bucket.
"We challenged them quite a bit this summer, and it was nice to see how they responded,'' said Erie coach Brian Howell, whose club is already a third of a way to matching last year's total of 12 victories. "They've got that can-do mentality, and the experience these girls got playing in (last year's) regional finals did a lot for their psyche and confidence.''
Erie's Three Rivers Conference rival, Riverdale, showed no ill effects from a lengthy postseason volleyball run as it opened at the Ridgewood Thanksgiving Tournament in Woodhull and won three times to capture the first-place trophy.
Two of the Rams' Final Four volleyball senior mainstays, forward Hannah Nimrick and guard Elle May, earned all-tournament honors after combining to score 82 points, with Nimrick also performing strong on the boards and May on the defensive side of things.
"They got to play with each other over the summer, which was good,'' said Riverdale coach Mick Kopriva, referring to missed practice time. "It was just a matter of getting some reps and getting into basketball shape. We should be fine.''