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Kaneland, Aurora Central Catholic girls basketball look to build on breakthrough seasons

Kaneland girls basketball coach Ernie Colombe knows better than to put too much emphasis on one afternoon of torrid shooting.

Because that afternoon happened to come Monday – the first day of practice on the heels of the Knights’ breakout 2011-12 season – he’s inclined to break precedent. Or at least let the memory linger for a few days.

“We talked a lot about coming back improved at the end of last year,” Colombe said. “We didn’t want to talk about last year in terms of getting complacent. We wanted to really focus on getting better, and I really think the girls took it to heart, because they’re a lot farther along than at this point last year.”

Kaneland finished 20-10 last season, advancing to the 3A Sycamore Sectional final behind a balanced offense that fed off an aggressive, man-to-man ‘D.’

With many of those players returning from last season, it was tempting to recount the memories during summer league games and fall open gyms. At least at the start of practice, the Knights could benefit from having fewer eyewitnesses around to spread the hype.

Senior Ashley Prost, who averaged 10 points and just less than 5 rebounds a game, is a setter on Kaneland’s sectional-bound volleyball team. Ashley Castellanos and Sydney Strang are set to run for the Knights in this weekend’s 2A cross country state meet in Peoria.

“Hopefully, they’ll all do some damage downstate and we should get them back soon,” Colombe said.

In March, Aurora Central Catholic made its own noise south of Interstate 80, winning 25 games and advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history in Class 2A.

Energetic coach Mark Fitzgerald, who inherited a one-win team upon joining the program in 2008-09, knew he’d be losing four starters from a fourth-place state finisher. When the Chargers’ contingent arrived home from Normal at the end of state tournament weekend, he handed each player in the program a T-shirt that read “Tradition Never Graduates.”

Lisa Rodriguez and spot starter Alex DeCraene figure to supply much of the leadership for the Chargers this season, and it sounds like there won’t be a shortage of running mates eager to fill in alongside.

“Our participation rates throughout the whole program are at an all-time high,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a good and bad thing, because there are cuts at every level, which is different in this program. But it gets the competition up and really gets the girls playing at a high level before the start of the season.”

Bustling Bulldogs: Batavia accelerated its win total from eight to 13 under first-year coach Kevin Jensen last season, and is eyeing a similar improvement this winter.

The Bulldogs’ core of guards Liza Fruendt and Miranda Grizaffi and post Erin Bayram was familiar with the traditional conditioning-heavy tempo of a season-opening practice.

“There are girls coming into things in pretty good shape considering all the basketball that’s played over the summer,” Jensen said, “but we’ll still make sure that there’s no doubt they’re going to be in shape once the season gets going.”

Bayram, a junior center, is “most definitely” among that group of early go-getters despite tearing her left ACL in December, Jensen said. Bayram had surgery in January and was slightly ahead of her recovery schedule when she returned for her first summer tournament in early July.

Save the dates: By date, Monday marks the earliest season starting point for the next five years. The 2016-17 season is set to begin on Oct. 31, with the rest of the seasons in that span starting in early November.

This season, teams are allowed to begin playing games two weeks from Monday, on Nov. 12. The state finals are set for Feb. 22-23 (1A and 2A) and March 1-2 (3A and 4A).

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