Senior guard Elin O’Brien knows the excitement of being part of outstanding Lyons Township High School girls basketball teams the past two seasons.
She also knows the hard work required for that to continue.
“I feel like it kind of sets the precedent that we’ve been really good the past few years,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s a good motivator. We want to have a good season and for the years to come.”
Once again, the Lions have graduated outstanding players, but they also have a solid corps determined to build upon two consecutive 28-win seasons, Class 4A regional championships and West Suburban Conference Silver Division titles with perfect 12-0 records.
Last year’s Lions finished 28-5 before losing to Whitney Young 63-47 in the Proviso East Sectional semifinals. The season begins Friday against Oak Lawn in the opening round of the annual LT Thanksgiving Tournament.
“Every year I feel like we lose key seniors and I’ve been impressed how other players have filled those roles. They’re showing that will be a similar pattern [this season],” LTHS coach Meghan Hutchens said.
“I think they will play with a high IQ. They’re versatile and many of them can play in many positions and they all get along. You see teams that get along on and off the court are successful when competing for the same goals.”
Kennedy Wanless, a 6-foot senior forward, 6-2 junior forward Nora Ezike, and O’Brien are returning starters. Wanless and Ezike were 2023 All-WSC Silver players along with graduated Ally Cesarini (Lewis) and Ella Ormsby.
Sophomore point-guard Avery Mezan and sophomore forward/guard Emma O’Brien, Elin’s sister, saw significant time as reserves. Seniors Ashley Airhart, Brooke Etheridge, Keira Kessler and Jenna Rentz and junior Tess Bernson also are varsity returnees.
Newcomers are juniors Harper Carroll, Sophia Flynn, Maddie McLane and Katie McVady and sophomores Gwen Smith and Fiona Sullivan. Nick Skorin also joins Missy Mitidiero as a new assistant coach.
“Like last year, we are really close as a team and that’s what has helped us work together well,” Wanless said. “Through this offseason, we were really good about staying connected. I feel like that’s going to help us connect on the court.”
Ezike already has garnered Division I college interest from more than 20 schools and was among roughly 25 high-school players invited to try out for the U.S. women’s national team in the spring.
“She’s really made a name for herself and she has so much more room to grow. The ceiling is so high and it’ll be fun to watch her the next two years,” Hutchens said.
Ezike had several double-doubles last season, averaging 11.2 points and 6.9 rebounds with 23 blocked shots. Her ability to drive from the top of the key was impressive.
“I’ve worked a lot on my ball handling and downhill work and also reading the offense and defense. I think I’ll be able to contribute to the team being able to know how tough games go,” Ezike said.
Wanless averaged 5.8 points and 6.4 rebounds with 70 assists and continually receives praise from Hutchens for doing “the dirty work,” such as defending, rebounding and boxing out.
Elin O’Brien averaged 8.6 points with 54 assists and was among the area’s most prolific outside shooters with 74 threes and a 37 percent shooting percentage. She came one three from tying the school’s single-season mark held by 2021 graduate Lindsey Hahn.
Mezan (3.8 ppg with 20 threes, 1.6 rpg) will continue the quick and scrappy play up top. Emma O’Brien (3.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 54 assists) keeps improving her ability to score inside and outside.
“Overall, it’s just a mixture of youth and mature players,” Hutchens said. “The door is open for whoever steps up and kind of demands that playing time. I’m excited to see how we grow and what happens with our bench.”
Before the Whitney Young loss, the Lions had won 14 straight and back-to-back regionals for the first time since 2004-05. Before that, LTHS won 11 straight regionals from 1989-99.
“Success isn’t just based off how we do. It’s how we’re connected as a team,” Wanless said. “I feel like winning conference again would be a huge success and state would be incredible if we got there.”