It's here, everyone. Basketball is back.
After a fall sports season with precious few highlights, girls basketball practice is in session on both sides of the border, and the same will be said of the boys beginning next week.
But today, we're focusing on the girls side. Here are five critical questions about this year's girls basketball season:
1) Just how good can those Hononegah girls be? The Indians have one final go-around with Jordan King, who by the time it's all said and done could be the best player in program history.
Hononegah should have its best team since King was a freshman, when they advanced to the IHSA Class 4A sectional final before falling to Huntley.
King, the best player in the area by a wide margin, will play for Marquette next year. This year, she's surrounded with solid talent. Fellow four-year starter Cali Schmitz is a perennial all-conference selection, junior Julia Burns has developed into a solid point guard, and Hannah Malcomson is in her second year of playing in coach Randy Weibel's system.
Alison Murdoch contributed a ton as a freshman and will be counted on to take a big leap this season. Could this team win a sectional? Sure they could. With King, anything is possible.
2) Will all that talent and experience at Clinton turn into victories? Second-year coach Kim Ciochon has a very talented class of 2020 to work with. The good news is the core of her team, just sophomores a year ago, has continued to improve and the Cougars could challenge for a Rock Valley Conference title.
Liz Kalk is an outstanding player and runs the show for Clinton. Hannah Welte, Addy Ciochon, Olivia Roehl and Milly Kemp form a really solid nucleus, and there is some depth behind them, too.
The Cougars will miss the shooting of Payton Severson and the defense of Emma Brewer, but this is an exciting team to watch for the next two years to be sure.
3) How will Big Foot respond to the loss of key seniors? Gone are Courtney Schoenbeck, Payton Courier and Zanzie Demco, three huge contributors to a Big Foot team that rose from the ashes and contended in the Rock Valley for the previous two seasons.
The good news is that Reagan Courier is back. She could challenge for Player of the Year honors in the conference, and "new" coach Michael Dowden, who has coached bot the girls and boys teams for Big Foot in the past, is the perfect choice to have this team come together.
While they might not challenge for any conference titles, the Chiefs could be a surprise to some.
4) What will Brodhead look like without a star? Here's a pretty amazing statistic for you: This will be the first year since 2009 that the Cardinals haven't had either Carly Mohns, Kylie Moe or Erin Nyhus in their starting five.
Those are three of the best players I covered, at any high school level, in my seven years, all Cardinals. There are some really talented Brodhead players coming up in their school system, but it remains to be seen how this year will play out without a true go-to, experienced weapon.
5) What can we expect out of these Beloit teams? Larry Blake is in his first year as coach of a Beloit Memorial program that just can't seem to get going. With Aniah Williams gone, there isn't much experience to on for Blake besides Meghan Drucker, who has been on the varsity squad since her freshman year.
The best hope for the Knights is for the youth program to continue to develop, and for a few younger players on the varsity roster to develop and provide a solid base for the future.
Turner lost a ton of scoring from last year. Sharpshooter Elise Metzger and Carson Nitz provided a lot of punch last year. Now it's Olivia Tinder's show. She's going to be a terrific player, and if the Trojans can get some help around her, watch out.