The merger of the North and South divisions into one 10-team league should make the Rock Valley Conference girls basketball race this season an entertaining one.
Area coaches are convinced that four or five teams could make a run at a conference title.
Whitewater won the Rock Valley North the last four years but was hit hard by graduation.
The Whippets lost Myriama Smith-Traore and Rebekah Schumacher to graduation and will likely be without top returning scorer Ali Ketterhagen due to an injury.
Smith-Traore terrorized the Rock Valley Conference for four seasons. The Marquette University freshman helped lead Whitewater to the 2015 WIAA Division 3 state title.
“It’s going to be much more difficult for Whitewater and much easier for the rest of us without a 6-foot-1 girl standing in the middle,” Edgerton coach Mike Schmidt said. “She changed so many things on both ends of the court.
“I would’ve probably said McFarland would be the favorite coming into the season, but they lost (Annalise) DeMuth for the season with a knee injury, and she led the conference in scoring last season. I think the conference is really going to be up for grabs.”
Walworth Big Foot won the Rock Valley South a year ago and welcomes back Courtney Schoenbeck, who scored 60 points in the first three games of the season last year before tearing her ACL and missing the rest of the year.
“She’s at probably 90-95 percent right now,” said her father and coach, Rick Schoenbeck. “She’s excited about getting back onto the court, but we’re trying not to rush things. An injury likes hers usually takes between a year and a year and a half to come back from.”
The Chiefs are expected to contend for a conference crown.
“You’ve got to win all your home games and then try to steal a couple of wins on the road,” Schoenbeck said. “We’re not very big, but I think we’re deep enough and athletic enough to cause some problems.”
Big Foot also returns senior Peyton Courier and sophomore Reagan Courier.
Clinton was second in the South last season but must replace four of five starters. Sophomore Liz Kalk is the Cougars’ top returnee.
Edgerton lost three starters, including 1,000-point scorer Kellan Schmidt, but returns leading scorer Bethany Oren and Jessica Danks.
“The key for us will be our guard play,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.
“But I think on any given night, we can play with anybody in our conference. We’ve just got to be consistent on both ends of the court.”
Brodhead’s Erin Nyhus averaged 17 points per game last season and was the South’s player of the year. The Cardinals were 8-8 in conference play and return 10 letterwinners.
Evansville went 1-15 in the Rock Valley North and 2-20 overall last season. Top returners for the Blue Devils are junior Leah Wagner and sophomore Paige Banks.
Senior Carson Nitz tops the returnees for Beloit Turner. She averaged 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per-game last season.
Miranda Reynolds and Allison Heckert will need to hold the fort down for Whitewater while it waits for Ketterhagen to return. The Whippets have won a conference title in five of the last six years.
Madison Edgewood, Stoughton and Monroe shared the Badger South crown last season, with Edgewood eventually winning the Division 3 state title.
Monroe went 21-4 and advanced to the Division 2 state tournament. Led by Division I recruit Sydney Hilliard (19.1 ppg), the Cheesemakers will be favored to win the Badger South this season. Sydney Mathiason and Emily Benzschawel also return for Monroe after both averaged in double figures in scoring last season.
Milton must replace leading scorer Bailee Collins.
Seniors Kailey Harbort and Carley Albrecht helped lead the Red Hawks to a sectional final game last season, although Harbort missed the final nine games due to injury. Also returning for Milton are senior Emma Martin, junior Chloe Buescher and sophomore Abbie Campion.
Monona Grove might have the best chance to dethrone Monroe. The Silver Eagles have six letterwinners returning, including junior and Division I recruit McKenna Warnock, who finished third in the state in scoring at 26.7 points per game.
Union Grove won the Southern Lakes Conference title last season and figures to be the favorite coming into the 2017-18 season, as well.
Delavan-Darien was 7-17 a year ago and hopes to rebound under first-year coach Marty Speth. Speth’s daughter, Jaida, is the top returning scorer for the Comets at 10.9 points per game, but she is also the only senior on the team.
“With one senior, two juniors and eight sophomores, we’re going to have to rely on Jaida for her leadership and ball-handling skills,” Speth said.
“We just want to get better each and every night. It comes down to being fundamentally strong and taking care of the basketball.”
Courtney Oomens returns for Lake Geneva Badger after leading the team in scoring last season. The Badgers were 7-7 in the Southern Lakes.
Elkhorn has nowhere to go but up this season after going 1-22. Ryley Rand is the top returnee for the Elks after averaging just under 10 points a game last season.
Parkview is coming off a 5-18 season as it joins the Trailways South Conference.
Amber Hudson was second on the Vikings in scoring last season and returns for her senior year.