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Post play likely to take center stage in Tri-Cities girls basketball

St. Charles North's Morgan Rosencrants (left) goes up for a shot past teammate Annalee Hotopp during a recent practice.
St. Charles North's Morgan Rosencrants (left) goes up for a shot past teammate Annalee Hotopp during a recent practice.

Resurgent post play projected as a theme of the girls basketball season before a handful of emerging frontcourt standouts elected not to compete.

While that development thinned some focus from the paint, it hasn’t completely evaporated.

With Geneva leading the pack, expect increased looks from the inside among Tri-Cities teams. Don’t worry, though, dynamic guards aren’t going away.

“There’s not any overwhelming height or anything like that,” St. Charles East coach Lori Drumtra said, “but I think you’re definitely going to see some nice inside play with some of the different teams.”

East and crosstown counterpart St. Charles North enter the season with players who’d stack up to noted Geneva posts Sami Pawlak and Sidney Santos on a growth chart.

Like Pawlak and Santos, Saints sophomore Kyra Washington stands 6-foot-1. Last season, she had a complement in the paint in Jordan Shead, who decided to pursue track training this offseason.

Batavia posts Katie Ryan and Paige Zochert also chose not to return this winter, though 6-1 Erin Bayram returns to give the Bulldogs their own towering inside presence.

At North, there’s known commodity Liz McNally, a 6-3 junior, as well as varsity newcomers Annalee Hotopp (6-1), a junior, and 6-foot freshman Morgan Rosencrants.

Among that group, North Stars coach Colleen Backer calls McNally the lone true post. While Hotopp and Rosencrants will be occasionally called on the fill those duties down low, they’re just as comfortable from mid-range.

For Backer, that’s always been a part of her preferred style.

“In regards to agility and the way that ball is going on the floor, a lot has to do with defense and making stops,” she said. “Although that post presence is important, I think guards still are always effective in getting the tempo going your way and getting you up and down the floor.”

Pawlak, a senior and the reigning Chronicle Player of the Year, often talks about channeling her ballhanding drills as a guard during her developmental days.

She’s listed as a forward/center, but last season was spotted bringing the ball upcourt on a handful of occasions and creating her own shot from well outside the key. The Vikings didn’t seem to skip a beat en route to an unbeaten run through the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.

Teammates also note the powerfully built Santos’ outside prowess as she works back from separate right ACL tears that wiped out her freshman and sophomore seasons.

Batavia’s Bayram, a junior, tore her left ACL in December but is expected back.

Coach Kevin Jensen calls her more of the traditional, inside-oriented post.

After a handful of summer and fall tournaments, plus a few weeks of the Bulldogs’ conditioning-heavy preseason workouts, Bayram has demonstrated the return of her range of motion.

“She looks good,” Jensen said. “It’ll be nice to have her back.”

At Kaneland, senior Ashley Prost fits a similar, do-it-all bill. At 5-foot-9, she’s two inches shorter than centers Ally VanBogaert and Kelly Wallner, but still has the inside chops to be productive around the rim.

Prost’s outside touch only adds value for a Knights team that boasts its share of in-betweeners.

“We do a lot of shooting with our players regardless of guard-post,” Knights coach Ernie Colombe said. “We’ve got a pretty versatile group. We’ve got probably five, six, seven kids who play different spots whether it’s the 4-5, 3-4, 2-3.”

Colombe stresses the emphasis on the “total game,” which sounds similar to the approach at Geneva.

While Vikings coach Sarah Meadows acknowledges her team will be much more post-oriented than in years past, that certainly doesn’t spell doom for the team’s harassing 1-2-2 diamond press.

“In the conference, we feel like the other teams are all kind of starting over, just like us,” Pawlak said. “I don’t know how strong they’re going to be and what they’ll do on the inside, but we’re ready for anything.”

That’s the idea.

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