IHSA girls basketball: Ranking the top 10 girls basketball teams in the Rockford-area

Winnebago's Campbell Schrank, shown driving to the hoop against Stillman Valley last year, is one of three stars who make 'Bago one of the favorites to win the Class 2A state girls basketball title this year.
Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star

The Rockford area always has a number of strong girls basketball teams, with schools from the area ranked in the state's top 10 in Class 1A, 2A and 4A in last year's final polls.

We rolled out the top players. Now, with the IHSA girls basketball season starting this week, here is the Rockford Register star's first-ever power rankings of local teams (chosen regardless of class):

1. Winnebago

Winnebago, ranked No. 3 at the end of last season, may be the favorite to win state in Class 2A. If so, ‘Bago would join Byron’s back-to-back champs in 2016 and 2017 as the only Big Northern state girls basketball champs. Byron, Eastland (2019) and Freeport Aquin (2012 and 2013) are the only Rockford-area schools to ever win state basketball titles.

The numbers:2021 NIC-10 girls basketball statistical leaders

Versatile guard/forwards Miyah Brown and Renee Rittmeyer are four year starters for Winnebago. Brown is the first Associated Press all-stater and Division I recruit (Bellarmine) in ’Bago history and Rittmeyer is a star in her own right. “Renee is a very talented athlete who sees the floor very well and can play multiple positions,” coach Judy Weber-Krause said. If that’s not enough, 5-foot-10 junior Campbell Schrank is also one of the top players in the Big Northern.

Hononegah’s Haley Warren steals a pass on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at Hononegah High School.

2. Hononegah

Hononegah returns both of its first-team all-conference players from a team that finished 13-1 to finish No. 7 in the state in Class 4A and win its eighth NIC-10 title in 11 years. Hononegah doesn’t have a ton of height — it’s two stars are both 5-8 — but Hono runs the floor well and plays tough defense. Hailey Warren averaged 14.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 steals, while Emma Clark averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 steals last year. Warren and Clark finished 1-2 in the NIC-10 in 3-pointers last year, combining for more than six per game.

3. Byron

The Tigers return three starters from a team that was 10-3 (8-2) last year, one game behind Big Northern co-champs Winnebago and Dixon. That was only the third time in the last nine years Byron wasn’t first or second in the BNC. Byron should again contend with Winnebago and Dixon for the BNC title.

Ava Kultgen, Isabelle McKinley and Ella Grundstrom give Byron three returning starters. The Tigers also return several players who saw significant minutes off the bench.

“I’m not sure what teams outside the conference have because we only played a conference schedule in the COVID year,” coach Eric Yerly said. “We expect to be near the top of the conference. To win big games, you’ve got to be a good defensive team. We have spent most of our time getting back to the defensive teams we’ve had in the past. That’s been our calling card since I’ve been here. That’s our goal, to be a great defensive team.”

Harlem’s Myah Udell fights for the ball on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at Hononegah High School.

4. Harlem

Harlem returns first-team all-conference forward Mya Davidson, special-team all-conference 3-point shooter Julie Bailey and guard Myah Udell from a team that finished second in the NIC-10 at 8-5. Grace Vyborny, who started two years ago before moving to Minnesota last year, is also back for Harlem.

“We are hoping to be at the top of the NIC-10,” coach Beth Meyer said. “The conference is deeper than it has been for quite a number of years, so it’s going to be hard to get there, but I think we’ve got a good chance.”

Top players:The Rockford area's top 15 high school girls basketball players

5. Lena-Winslow

Le-Win finished only 9-7 last year, but also played one of the toughest schedules in the state, facing state-ranked Amboy, Eastland and Stockton. Sophomore 6-foot forward Grace Groezinger and 5-10 senior forward Kalli Humphrey lead the Panthers. Both averaged more than 10 points and 7 rebounds last year. Senior center Cierra Mapes, who did not play last year but started as a sophomore, also returns. The Panthers are also solid at guard, led by Camdyn Huttenlocher. The NUIC has churned out a slew of Class 1A state title contenders the last several years and Le-Win should challenge Galena and Amboy as the best team in the three-division league.

Guilford's Lindsey Knuth drives past Jefferson's Cashay Stevenson in the second quarter of their game at Guilford High School on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Rockford.

6. Guilford

Guilford graduated only one player off a team that finished 11-4 (10-3), posting its highest winning percentage in conference games in school history. The Vikings were also the only team to beat league champ Hononegah. Sydney Donaldson was first-team all-conference last year, Kyleigh Thomas and Lindsey Knuth made special mention and Kiara Brandon was one of the league’s top 3-point shooters.

Aubrun’s Brooklyn Gray shoots the ball on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at Harlem High School.

7. Auburn

Senior forward/guard Brooklyn Gray was the NIC-10 MVP last year, averaging a league-high 18.6 points, plus 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists for a team that finished 9-4. The Knights won their only NIC-10 title in 2020. Zhakyla Evans, like Gray a four-year starter and returning all-conference player, might miss the first semester and Auburn is on its sixth head coach in seven years, but the Knights should remain one of the top teams in the NIC-10.

Last season's best:Rock River Valley High School Sports Awards girls basketball team named for 2021

8. Freeport Aquin

Aquin was 12-4 (8-1) last year. Three of those losses were to No. 1-ranked Aquin and No. 3 Eastland. The Bulldogs graduated their top two scorers, but still have a lot of talent, including several players on the volleyball team that just finished third in the state. “They are young, but they will be good once volleyball is over,” Lena-Winslow coach Dennis Huttenlocher said. Aquin is 43-4 in the conference the last four seasons.

Boylan's Olivia Harter goes to the hoop through the Auburn defense in the fourth quarter of their NIC-10 game at Boylan Catholic High School on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Rockford. Auburn won 42-40.

9. Boylan

Olivia Harter and Avery Marcomb return for the Titans (8-5). Harter was special team all-conference last year. But 6-1 sophomore Lily Esparza is the biggest reason Boylan looks dangerous this year.

“She’s going to be a powerhouse as she continues to grow,” Boylan coach Paul Perrone said. “She has great moves inside and can shoot from the outside. She’s very aggressive to the boards and, most important, is very coachable.”

10. Belvidere North

Belvidere North was hampered by both injuries and COVID last year but still finished 6-3. Crystal Sotello led the way, averaging 15.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals as a junior. North has a strong history of contending in the NIC-10, going 13-5 in the league in the previous two years.

Matt Trowbridge: mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge