BLOOMINGTON — A six-player recruiting class featuring three multi-sport athletes and four from Class 4A high schools has Illinois Wesleyan women's basketball coach Mia Smith feeling good about the future.
“It was a long recruiting year … lots of battles, but we really came out looking outstanding,” said Smith, who needed to restock a 23-5 squad that lost four seniors.
“There were times when I thought it wasn’t going to be as good as it is, but somehow all the pieces of the puzzle really fell together and it looks really good.”
The Class of 2023 boasts three guards, two forwards and a center. Smith won't be surprised if the first rookie to earn playing time is 5-foot-8 combo guard Katelyn Heller, who helped Class 4A Glenbard West go 22-7. Smith likens Heller to current IWU standout Sydney Shanks.
“She’s kind of a jack of all trades,” Smith said. “She can do a little bit of everything and she does it fairly well. She can handle the point. She can shoot. She can drive and she’s strong. She can handle the contact part of the game.”
Other recruits are 5-7 guard Emily Collins of Arlington Heights Hersey, 6-2 center Hannah Smith of Lincoln-Way East, 5-10 small forward Kelly Carlson of LaGrange Lyons and the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley duo of 5-10 forward Claire Retherford and 5-9 guard Megan Moody.
Smith hasn’t ruled out acquiring a seventh recruit in 5-4 guard Lauren Shanks, a Central Catholic graduate who will play soccer for the Titans. She is Sydney Shanks' sister.
As a senior, Lauren Shanks averaged 16.2 points, 5.4 steals, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists en route to Pantagraph All-Area first-team honors.
“If she is not physically exhausted from soccer, and wants to come play basketball, she can join our team at anytime,” Smith said. “The soccer season is really grueling. We’ve got a spot for Lauren. If she wants it, we’d love to have her.
“The girl is gritty. Nothing phases her. She goes 100 percent all of the time. I see her as an interceptor. She is a great reader on defense. Central Catholic has always done a great job with their pressure defense and that is what we would want from Lauren.”
The left-handed Hannah Smith spent her high school career backing up two Division I recruits at Class 4A Lincoln-Way East.
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“Hannah is very exciting for me,” Mia Smith said. “She’s a legit 6-2 post player with very soft hands. Every time I got an opportunity to see her, she looked really good. I think the upside of her future is amazing.”
Carlson, whose father Tom played football at IWU, also will play lacrosse. She reminds Smith of former Titan Karen Solari, but with less finesse.
“She is a gamer and hard-nosed competitor,” Smith said. “She moves people. They don’t move her. Her rebounding anticipation skills are exceptional. She has a knack for knowing where that ball is coming down.
“I love to watch her mind during the game. You can tell she’s a thinking player and is able to think ahead.”
Collins, whose brother Chris played football at IWU, averaged 13 points for a 20-10 Class 4A regional championship team at Hersey.
“She’s really got some athleticism,” Smith said. “She and Katelyn Heller are probably the two most athletic kids coming in.”
Retherford, who was a second-team Pantagraph All-Aea selection, averaged 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds for a 24-6 squad. She also will throw the discus for IWU, having placed 10th in the Class 1A state meet. She holds the GCMS record of 124 feet, 10 inches.
“She’s going to add some power for us down low, which is something we’ve been missing,” Smith said. “I love her go-getter attitude.”
Moody, who also will play golf, earned all-area honorable mention in basketball after averaging 7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds.
“As a multi-sport athlete myself, I just think multi-sport athletes have a really great grip on what it takes to be successful and they are competitors,” said Smith, who believes providing the opportunity to play multiple sports is a selling point on the rise for small colleges.
“What we are finding out is that the athleticism in a multi-sport athlete works very well in Division III.”