MORRIS – Coaches usually use their summer basketball dates to find a mix of players, what defense works best and to see how new players fit into the mix.
The Lincoln-Way West girls basketball team doesn’t have some of those problems because the Warriors have all five starters returning from a team that went 27-4 overall and 11-1 in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red Division.
In addition, the Warriors won this year’s Morris Ladies Shootout, 51-46, over York in the championship game. The Warriors completed the tournament with a 6-0 record.
“Usually, we use the summer to find out what defense works best for our group of players,” Warriors coach Ryan White said. “But we are experienced and have pretty much everyone back from last year’s team. We know what we are going to do and that will be an up-tempo team. But the one area that is key is to play better defense. To take the next step, we have to show up defensively.”
Even with the stellar record, West lost in the regional final to Marian Catholic, and the Warriors have their sights set on a much longer tournament run next season.
As a sophomore last season, Taylor Gugliuzza led the team, scoring 21.6 points a game to go with 4.3 assists and 3.9 steals. She had all-state honors come her way. Yet losing so early in the tournament is not forgotten.
“We are using the summer to prepare for our season because we want to get further than just being in the regional final,” Gugliuzza said. “We need to get better on the defensive end of the floor and get our new members of the team up to speed with our style of play.
“I want to be a more vocal leader on the floor and help our team any way I can. I will use my experiences to help the younger players, just like the older players helped me and all the others. It’s a great tradition at West that we have such a great chemistry with our teams, and that has been passed down from year to year.”
Taylor Gugliuzza’s sister, sophomore Tara, is a returning starter. She averaged 12 points as a freshman.
Among the new additions to the veteran team will be freshman Evan Pittman, who will join junior Molly Ryan to provide size inside as both players are at or above 6 feet tall, and two juniors with familiar last names in Elizabeth Atsinger and Lindsey O’Donnell. Both had sisters on the team – Emily Atsinger and Courtney O’Donnell – who were quality players and graduated in 2017.
The lone senior on the summer roster is returning starter Tara Hastings, who averaged 14.0 points and shot
38 percent from 3-point range. She is coming off a stellar track and field season as she qualified for the state finals in the Class 3A high jump.
“It’s crazy how my high school career just flew by,” Hastings said. “I really can’t believe that this coming year is my senior season.
“We were a smaller team in the Morris tournament, but when the regular season starts, we will have some size. We are a good shooting team as usual, but the key will be on the defensive end. We basically use the summer to work on things, and defense is the No. 1 priority.
“We have had a great record and a great tradition at West, but in the tournament it’s been disappointing. We all want to take that next step. Especially this coming year, it’s my last shot.”
White knows that with the tradition he has built with the Warriors, everyone is looking to beat them during the season.
“We will have great shooters, some size this coming year, and everyone knows the type of offense that we play,” White said. “But we also have another great group of girls who have and will work hard to carry on what other teams have established with our program.”