GIRLS BASKETBALL: Meet the 2018-19 All-Area girls basketball team

March 24, 2019

Abby Shepard, Freshman, Beecher

A lot of high praise and anticipation surrounded Beecher because of its freshman class. When you watched Shepard play, it was easy to see why. She was instant offense and lightning in a bottle and wasn’t afraid of the varsity spotlight. The freshman forward ended the season as the Bobcats’ leading scorer, averaging 11.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and three steals per night. She was named to a handful of all-tournament teams and earned a spot on the first-team River Valley Conference list. Get used to seeing her name; she’s a special talent.

Cierra Welch, Senior, Beecher

While Shepard provided the youthful presence, Welch was the senior leader who understood when it was closing time. Having been through battles, she knew when to make her move, and it always perfect timing, such as leading a comeback win against Reed-Custer. She ended her final season averaging 10.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, a team-high 3.3 assists and 2.7 steals per night. She earned first-team RVC honors and leaves Beecher with a big hole to fill on the hardwood.

Ali Berg, Senior, Bishop McNamara

When it came to Bishop McNamara, every team’s game plan revolved around slowing down Berg. But great players overcome, and that’s what she always did. The 6-foot-1 guard finished the season averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists per night and led her team to a Class 3A Super-Sectional. Her efforts earned her first-team Metro Suburban and AP Honorable Mention All-State honors in Class 3A. She ends her Irish career as a 1,000-point scorer, four-time regional champion, sectional champion and three-time All-Area selection. Now, she’s off to IUPUI to continue her basketball career.

Kiaria Brown, Senior, Bishop McNamara

The Irish were shorthanded at times during the season, but Brown always was there to pick up any slack. Showing she had the shooter’s touch, she turned into the Irish’s leading scorer to the tune of 15 points per game. Elevating her game was a major reason the Irish won 24 games, and Brown stepped up in big moments during their playoff run. She leaves the Irish with honors as a first-team Metro Suburban Conference selection.

Evey Evans, Junior, Bradley-Bourbonnais

The Boilers went through a little bit of a transition phase, but the consistency of Evans remained solid as ever. She became the center of opposing team’s game plans but never was afraid of the moment. She finished the season averaging 13.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and two steals per night going through the SouthWest Suburban gauntlet. This marks back-to-back seasons as an All-Area selection, and she’ll be back for one more season.

Arianna Lombardi, Junior, Bradley-Bourbonnais

It’s possible no player in the area enjoyed a more fruitful season than Lombardi did. Taking her game to another level, her endless hustle and athleticism propelled her to the forefront of the Boilers as their leading scorer with 14.1 points and 3.8 assist per night, including a 31-point outing against Thornwood. She was a pest defensively and always could be found in the passing lanes coming away with four steals per night. She has one more year as a Boiler before taking to the soccer pitch for college.

Sloan Boyce, Senior, Cissna Park

After losing four of five starters from last season’s Class 1A Regional championship team, Cissna Park faced its share of struggles. But it’s lone bright spot was Boyce, the only returning starter, and she did everything possible to rack up wins for the Timberwolves. As the focal point of the offensive attack, she finished the season averaging 12 points (team-high), 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals, and she drilled 3-pointers at a 42-percent rate. She earned first-team SVC honors and graduates with three regional titles under her belt.

Riley Thompson, Junior, Central

Central was a team loaded with a good amount of talent but was plagued by injuries at the wrong time. Thompson’s versatility on defense and ability to score kept the Comets afloat. The junior forward ended the season as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per night. She earned a first-team SVC selection and returns for one more season as a Comet in what could be a wide-open conference race.

Melissa Stewart, Senior, Dwight

Perhaps no player was more pivotal to its team and success than Stewart was for Dwight. Often a double-double machine, the 5-foot-11 senior finished the season averaging 16.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per night, which led the team, and converted 77 percent of her free throws. She also turned in a handful of 20-plus point performances, including dropping a career-high 33 points during the Iroquois West Holiday Hoopla. She was named first-team SVC and moved on to continue her basketball career at St. Ambrose.

Abby Beck, Sophomore, Gardner-South Wilmington

Teammate and fellow All-Area selection Kaitlynn Kavanaugh garnered most of the attention, but Beck shined in some big moments. Her game wasn’t based on scoring, but her fingerprints could be found all over the place. She led the team in steals (4.7), assists (3.2) and blocks (1.1) per game and was third in scoring (6.9). She helped the Panthers earn a share of the RVC title by scoring the final seven points in their win against Beecher. She earned a first-team RVC selection and returns next year to the lineup.

Kaitlynn Kavanaugh, Junior, Gardner-South Wilmington

She made a name for herself last season before an injury derailed her momentum. Kavanaugh returned to full strength, and the Panthers turned in their best season in 33 years at 24-5 with the junior forward leading the way. She finished the season averaging 10.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Her effect led her to earning honors as RVC Player of the year and a back-to-back All-Area selection. The scary part is she’s back for one more year, as is the entire Panthers’ rotation.

Madelyn Brown, Senior, Herscher

Very few players in the area epitomized the words “hustle” and “effort” more than Brown did. Despite an injury that kept her out for a small stretch, she ended her final season tied as the top scorer with 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals per game. That, once again, earned her a first-team I-8 selection. She capped a tremendous career by finishing sixth all-time in school history in points and rebounds, fifth in assists and fourth in steals. It will be tough for Herscher to replace her production next season.

Mya Johanson, Junior, Herscher

For a player to have the skill set Johanson possesses at 6-foot-2, its nearly criminal. She has the I.Q., can handle the ball and shoot from distance. All of those skills turned into her being tied with Brown at 14.9 points with a team-leading 8 rebounds and about 2 blocks, steals and assists per night. That paved the way for her to earn first-team I-8 and third-team IBCA All-State. Although Brown is out of eligibility, Johanson returns for one more season in Tiger gold. She’ll be fun to watch.

Tabetha Jones, Senior, Kankakee

Last season, Jones was the go-to player when the Kays needed a bucket. While she wasn’t quite in that same role this season, her effect still was felt. Leading the Kays to a school-best 31-2 record, the senior finished the season averaging 9.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 4.8 steals and 2.5 blocks per game. She was also just one of three players to record a triple-double -- but Jones did it twice. She ends her career as a 1,000-point scorer, with third-team IBCA All-State and back-to-back All-Area honors.

Jennifer Sotello, Senior, Kankakee

Because of the multitude of weapons the Kays possessed, it was tough to figure out which player to guard. If Sotello was left open, she made you pay. The Kays’ 3-point sniper ended the season as their second-leading scorer at 10.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.8 steals per night. She buried 74 3-pointers, which led the area, but none was bigger than the 3-pointer in a Class 3A regional final against Bishop McNamara with just 14 seconds left. She ends her career as a 1,000-point scorer and back-to-back All-Area selection.

Ambranette Storr, Junior, Kankakee

Storr is the 2019 Daily Journal Player of the year, and after reading her stat line, it’s easy to understand why. Described as a walking bucket, she carried much of the offensive load for the Kays and averaged 24.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.5 steals per night. She won MVP at all three tournaments the Kays played and won in and was named MVP of the Southland Athletic Conference. Her efforts earned her a spot as AP first-team All-State for the second straight season, as well as being named to the ESPN Top 60 in the class of 2020. Yes, she’s that good. And she’s back for one more year.

Kaylee Warren, Junior, Milford

Milford was coming off its first winning season in eight years and one-upped itself with Warren leading the charge. The junior led with a quiet demeanor that helped the Bearcats win their first tournament, the Iroquois West Holiday Hoopla. She later guided them to the school’s first regional championship since 2009 with 13 points and 12 rebounds. She finished the season as the team’s leading scorer at 10 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. She returns for one more season as a Bearcat, hoping for another plaque.

Courtney Burks, Junior, Peotone

Despite Peotone’s up and down shooting nights, Burks finished the season averaging 10.6 points, about 3 assists and 3 rebounds per night. The junior guard made her money from distance, as she buried 69 3-pointers and was nearly automatic at the charity stripe, making 82 percent of her free throws. Her efforts earned her a spot as first-team in the I-8, and she returns for one more season as one of the top shooters in the area.

Mae Graffeo, Junior, Peotone

If the outside game wasn’t working, Peotone always had the opinion to dump it inside, where Graffeo shined. She finished the season as the team’s leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker at 10.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. The junior forward also extended her game by adding 3-point shots that helped the Blue Devils win 18 games. Alongside another first-team I-8 selection, this makes back-to-back All-Area selections for Graffeo, who returns alongside Burks for one final season as a Blue Devil.

Kylie Balgemann, Junior, Reed-Custer

Reed-Custer’s game plan for the season was simple: Get the ball into the post. Near the basket, you always could find Balgemann. Although teams game-planned around her quite a bit, she still completed the season averaging 9.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per night. That earned her a first-team I-8 selection and All-Area spot for the second straight season. She’ll be back for one more crack at a conference title and regional plaque.

Antoinette Hill, Senior, Reed-Custer

When it wasn’t Balgemann getting all the attention, it was Hill. If there’s any one player who challenges Dwight’s Stewart of being more valuable, it’s Hill. She slowly became the focal point of the Comets’ offense and remained a force. She led the Comets to their best season since 2008 and was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game along with about two steals. She ends her basketball career with a first-team I-8 selection along with a spot as AP Honorable Mention All-State and third-team IBCA All-State. Not a bad way to go out.

Sierra Hummel, Junior, Tri-Point

Tri-Point coach Will Patterson said he just wanted Hummel to shoot more. He got his wish, and Tri-Point became more dangerous. The junior guard ended the season as the team’s leading scorer at 14.5 points while grabbing 6.8 rebounds per night along with 2.1 steals including a 25-point performance in a regional loss to Milford. She earned first-team RVC honors and returns for one more year as a Charger as their main scoring threat with running mate Abby Kerrins graduating.

Kennedy Bauer, Senior, Watseka

Through her entire Watseka basketball career, all Bauer knew was winning. They won a school-record 30 games last season, but that wasn’t good enough. So, true to her nature, Bauer elevated her game to new heights. She finished the season averaging about a double-double with 12.7 points, 9.2 rebounds (team highs) and 2.5 steals per night. During the Warriors’ postseason run to a sectional final, she set a new school record for rebounds in a game with 24 against P-B-L. Her legacy ends at No. 4 all-time in career points (1,257) and atop the board for career rebounds with 834. She was first-team SVC, an IBCA All-State selection and now a four-team All-Area pick. Quite a career.

Mallory Drake, Senior, Watseka

The Warriors had an insane presence in Bauer and just needed a shooting presence. Enter Drake. At 6-foot, she had the length to shoot without the threat of getting her shot blocked, and she was money. Just ask Bismarck-Henning -- Drake drilled five 3-pointers in the first half. She buried 56 3-pointers on the season and finished with averages of 10.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and a steal per night. She ends her Warrior career as a first-team SVC selection along with helping them amass a 98-25 record in four years.

Magan Harris, Senior, Watseka

Part of Watseka making just its second-ever trip to a Class 2A sectional final was the defensive prowess of Harris. If she’s one-on-one with you, chances are the ball will end up in her hands. Her natural ability and active hands are what put her in the record books for steals in a season last year (101) and capped this season with 330 for her career, a school record. While defense was her calling card, her offensive game took a leap forward as she finished averaging 10.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and led the team in assists with 4.1 per night. She was a first-team SVC and an IBCA All-State selection.

Honorable Mention: Zoie Langlois, Bradley-Bourbonnais; Kayla Kodat, Dwight; Keshauna Pitts, Kankakee; Imani Williams, Kankakee; Natalie Schroeder, Watseka; Sam Gwiazda, Peotone; Jaden Christian, Reed-Custer; Brooke Kelly, Momence; Helen Onsen, Coal City; Kennedy Fair, Gardner-South Wilmington; Kaylie Sippel, Beecher; Chloe Sanford, Wilmington; Emma Morts, Milford; Allie Battrell, Trinity; Maddie Lacer, Manteno; Claudia Kilgore, Donovan; Abby Sanford, Grace Christian; Abby Kerrins, Tri-Point; Mya Keen, Momence; Makenna Crater, Coal City; Margaret Landis, Beecher; Kenna Selk, Manteno; Claire Rink, Wilmington; Alexis Waller, Central; Emma Russell, Bradley-Bourbonnais; Avery Jackson, Kankakee; Lauren Krisko, Bishop McNamara