The names have changed following a two-year stretch that matched the most wins (49) in that span in the history of the Evanston girls basketball program.
But the expectations haven’t changed, even though most of the players responsible for that success have graduated.
The Wildkits open the 2014-15 season Tuesday at a new tournament (Schaumburg Thanksgiving Tournament) with so many new faces to sort out that head coach Elliot Whitefield might end up starting 5 sophomores at some point.
Two starters — sophomore forward Leighah-Amori Wool and sophomore center Krystal Forrester — return from last year’s squad that finished 22-8 overall and advanced to the sectional championship game. Both players will take on expanded roles and Whitefield will search for a winning combination even though there are only 4 seniors on the 15-player roster.
“Because we’re so young, we’re trying to manage the information we give them without overwhelming them,” said Whitefield, who is in his fourth year at the helm. “We want them to be able to just go out and play and not think about it so much. We’re trying to keep things somewhat basic at first.
“But I’m not conceding anything to any team we play this year. It makes it fun in some ways, not knowing what will happen this year. Our goal is that teams will have to compete hard to beat us . Someone asked me the other day if our goal was to be .500 (record), and I said no, being average is not our goal. We’ll go into every game thinking we can win it. We just need to build a foundation first.”
Whitefield has attempted to find a tougher opening season test for the Wildkits ever since he took over as head coach, and the Kits dropped out of the Deerfield Tournament as a result. Now they’ll face Stevenson, Wheaton Warrenville South, St. Charles East, Rockford Boylan and host Schaumburg in the round-robin tourney that opens on Tuesday and concludes on Nov. 28.
The ETHS coach said this is probably the deepest squad he’s had in his short tenure and noted that the younger players have already enjoyed success on the lower levels.
“I think we can go 9, possibly 10 deep this year, and at some positions we have players behind the starters who are maybe just as talented,” he said. “I’ve seen great things from a lot of them over the summer and in the fall. Now my job is to find a rotation that makes sense and gives us consistency.”
Seniors Erika Carter and Adrianna Carter are penciled in as starters even though the twin sisters didn’t see much court time last season after transferring from Loyola Academy to ETHS. They’ll be joined by Wool, Forrester and sophomore point guard Savannah Norfleet for Tuesday’s debut against Stevenson at 6:40 p.m.
“Erika and Adrianna are captains, and they’re seniors who get it. They’re really good leaders who understand the team concept,” Whitefield said. “Even though we don’t have many seniors, I don’t think leadership will be an issue for us this year. My worry isn’t scoring — I think we’ll be OK there — and I think we’ll be a better rebounding team and we’ll move the ball better than we did last year.”
Both Wool and Forrester only scratched the surface of their potential as freshmen starters, and naturally deferred to seniors when it came to shooting the ball. Both have made major strides in the off-season.
“Leighah is clearly our best scorer now,” said Whitefield. “She’s improved her shooting range, her post game and her ability to drive. She still has to get stronger so she can bang people in the paint, and she’ll have to be more aggressive on offense, too. She passed up some shots last year even though the others encouraged her to shoot, and she knows she has the green light from me.
“As the season went on last year other teams left Krystal open at 15 feet. She’s really worked on her shooting, and now if she’s left open like that, she can knock down shots.”
Forrester, at 5-foot-11 inches, plays bigger than that on the boards and Whitefield could at times start all 3 bigs — Forrester, 6-1 sophomore Leah Robinson and 5-10 soph Hanan Richmond — if the matchups dictate that will gain an advantage for the Kits.
The coach also likes the idea of using his bigger players in halfcourt traps to try to wear down opposing guards and force turnovers.
“We’ll use our athleticism to do a lot of trapping,” said the ETHS coach. “I think Leah Robinson may be our most athletic player and the potential for her is sky-high. She could become a dominant high school player the way she runs the floor, jumps and rebounds. She can also step out and shoot 3s. The question is how hard is she going to play?
“Hanan is extremely athletic, too. She can get up and down the floor and she played with the Whitney Young summer club team. I think she can be a big-time player for us.”
Another player bursting with potential is the 5-7 point guard, Norfleet. “She still has to learn about team defense and what we’re trying to do,” said Whitefield, “but I expect big things from her. She handles the ball extremely well, and can drive and finish. Skill-wise, she’s further along than most of the players I’ve had at her age.”
Two other sophs, Allysah “Cookie” Boothe and Brianna Miller, will lend depth at the guard position. Boothe is the younger sister of former defensive whiz Erin Boothe and Miller has emerged as “clearly our best defensive player even though she wasn’t viewed as one of the top sophomores before” according to Whitefield.
Also challenging for playing time are seniors Meryl Davis and Chanel Polycarpe, and juniors Abby Rosenbaum, Helen Enghauser, Klara Welin and Sade Chukas.