OSWEGO – No one expected Oswego East sophomore Caroline Engelhardt and her teammates to match the program’s success of the past two years, 51 wins and the only regional championship in school history.
That doesn't mean Engelhardt isn’t going to try.
The 5-foot-9 forward has a big uniform to fill, but she’s not afraid to take on the challenge. Engelhardt wears No. 32, which previously was worn by current Missouri State freshman Sydney Schultz.
“We hold ourselves to high standards,” Engelhardt said. “We can do a lot better and we want to push ourselves to get to that.
“We want to be better than that team from two years ago [that reached the sectional final] and we have to push ourselves to get there. Our goal in the end is to win that regional title that we missed out on last year.”
The Wolves (8-9) have a ways to go before they can contend for a regional title. They are battling the inconsistency common to inexperienced teams, though there is hope.
Oswego East surprised Sycamore in the quarterfinals of the Oswego East Holiday Classic before losing to Downers Grove South in the semifinals. The Wolves then were beaten 71-44 by Harlem in the Dec. 29 third place game.
“I think it was growing pains,” Oswego East coach Abe Carretto said. “We blew it [against Downers South]. We were up six with 1:04 to go.
“We were doing everything right. All of a sudden we just let things slip away. That’s been a thing. We’ve had four or five close games and we need to take care of the basketball.”
The Wolves didn’t do that against Harlem (10-5), which got Oswego East guards Christine Corpuz and Abby Ford in foul trouble early on. Corpuz, a sophomore who made the all-tournament team, scored eight of her 10 points in the second half. But by then it was too late. Ford was held to two points.
“When you take two of our ballhandlers, especially Christine, out of the game for that long, it’s not good for us,” Carretto said. “[Corpuz] is a heck of a point guard and Abby does well defensively.”
Riley Kelsch had six of her 11 points in the first quarter to keep the Wolves within 12-10, but Harlem steadily pulled away after that. Guard Paige Schneider scored 21 points, including six 3-pointers, for Harlem, while fellow guard Anaiah Moore had 19 points.
Engelhardt usually starts but came off the bench.
“The coach wanted to have five guards at the start of the game because they’re a more guard-heavy offense, so he wanted us to have a guard-heavy offense as well,” Engelhardt said. “We have to play more consistent, obviously, and just play better when we come off the bench.”
Engelhardt, whose career high is 13 points, scored nine points, including a 5-for-5 effort from the line, while 6-1 junior forward Chyna Scott added seven points. Both added four rebounds.
“They work well together,” Carretto said. “When they want to rebound well, they can, and that’s kind of where we’ve been going.
“They do have a little bit of toughness to them and we definitely need them in there to help us out to get some rebounds and putbacks.”
Despite the ups and downs, Engelhardt is having a blast in her first varsity season.
“It’s been a great experience,” Engelhardt said. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball and I’m just enjoying every minute of it.
“I always feel I can do better but I think I’m doing decent.”