By Christopher Waters
The IHSHL North Central is the largest high school conference in the state of Illinois. This year we have 22 varsity teams and 30 junior varsity teams competing. At the varsity level, BGHW (Buffalo Grove, Hersey, and Wheeling) will be looking for their third straight regular season and post season conference titles as well as trying to win a third state championship in the last four years. However, it will not be an easy task: Libertyville/Vernon Hills won the preseason CLS Gator Cup Tournament by beating top teams from the North Central, Scholastic, and West conferences. In fact, the North Central division took 3 of the top five spots in the tournament (Libertyville/Vernon Hills – 1st, Loyola Maroon – 2nd, and Lake Forest – 5th). In the Wheaton West Invitational, BGHW beat tough Maine and Edwardsville teams to set up a winner take all vs. perennial Catholic League power Providence Catholic to advance to the semifinals. Providence prevailed in a lengthy shootout, but the early season success of the North Central Division is encouraging as teams enter conference play.
Other teams to watch out for at the varsity level include: PREP (Prospect, Rolling Meadows, and Elk Grove) who return a lot of offensive fire power from last year’s team who came in 4th place in the division; new comer to the division – Leyden (Leyden, Ridgewood, and Elmwood Park) lost to BGHW in the quarterfinals of the State Tournament and return a lot of talent; New Trier White has finished in the top 10 on MyHockey Rankings the past two years, and D155 who added players from Cary Grove to an already talented pool from Crystal Lake Central and Prairie Ridge. Adding Leyden, and coaching changes for six of the 13 teams, will bring a lot of energy, excitement, and optimism for the teams competing. It will be an exciting year in the varsity division with maybe the most parity the conference has had in years.
The JV division has been dominated by PREP Black the past few years, but teams such as BGHW and the Kings look to take the next step and dethrone PREP. BGHW arguably has its most talented group of freshmen in years added to a core group of players that finished second in the conference to PREP the past two years. Meanwhile, the Kings (Burlington Central, Dundee-Crown, Hampshire, Huntley, and Jacobs) finished third in the CLS Gator Cup preseason tournament, losing to eventual champion Loyola 3-1. The young talent throughout the JV teams in the conference will be exciting to watch develop as the year progresses.