After an eventful off-season that saw both programs make international trips to Spain that included games against teams from Valencia and Madrid, the Chicago Maroons basketball teams are back in action stateside with the women tipping off the season Thursday night at Lake Forest.
After setting the bar with a stellar 24–3 season—including a perfect 14–0 in UAA play—a year ago, the women check in at No. 7 in the D3Hoops.com preseason Top 25. After two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the UAA-favorite Maroons look to capitalize on veteran talent and leadership with a core group of upperclassmen. Among the 11 returning players are D3Hoops.com preseason All-Americans fourth-year forward Ola Obi and third-year guard Mia Farrell.
While the Maroons will certainly lean on experience, not every face in Ratner will be familiar. Five first-years enter the program in 2018, hailing from Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Missouri. Assistant coach Michelle Bilek is another new addition, replacing 2018 WBCA NCAA DIII Assistant Coach of the Year Olivia Lett who left Hyde Park to become the head coach at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. Bilek’s experience includes serving as Director of Basketball Operations at Columbia University before taking an assistant coaching position with UAA rival NYU last season.
“We are super excited to finally get on the court and show how hard we have all been working…especially given the tougher schedule this season,” said third-year guard and All-UAA selection Miranda Burt. “Our non-conference schedule should prepare us well for UAAs, and, at the end of conference play, we feel as if we will be more than ready to compete in the NCAA tournament.” That non-conference schedule—and the road to a third consecutive NCAA tournament—will get underway at 7 p.m. Thursday evening in Lake Forest.
On the other side of the ball, the men will start their 2018 campaign in Bloomington, playing visitor to No. 19 Illinois Wesleyan in a Sunday matinee. After losing Jake Fenlon—Chicago’s all-time 3 point–field goal record holder—to graduation in June, the squad hopes to redefine itself before UAA play with a few formidable early non-conference tests.
The Maroons come off a meager 13–12 season a year ago, highlighted by two key wins over ranked UAA opponents. One of those victories came in the form of a Senior Day upset, knocking off No. 2 Wash U in their last action of the season. Looking to find their identity in the post-Fenlon era, the Maroons are anchored by an experienced senior class in Noah Karras, Ryan Jacobsen, Justin Jackson, and Max Jacobs. All four fourth-years contributed significant minutes last season and will be the foundation for a program ripe with young talent.
“Ever since we reported to campus before Spain, we’ve been practicing with one focus: Illinois Wesleyan,” said second-year guard Ezra Swell. “A goal of ours this year is to never look past an opponent. We know they’re a great team, and we’re excited to show how hard we’ve worked this offseason.”
With the veterans leading the way, the South Siders will tip the season off at 4 p.m. on Sunday.