Nottingham High’s Liz Kerekes brings up the ball during the Northstars’ scrimmage against Brick Dec. 13, 2017 (Photo by Wes Kirkpatrick.)

The Nottingham High girls’ basketball team lost much of its inside presence and scoring when Tyasia Stephenson and Haylee Kieffer graduated last year. On the bright side, the Northstars return an experienced point guard who is feeling better about her game than ever before.

Senior Liz Kerekes is back for her second year of running the offense and serving as captain for a Northstar team with an experienced nucleus of players. They know what to expect from Kerekes, and she knows what to expect from them.

“We have a nice group that are very comfortable with each other, and she knows how they play and she can just read what they’re gonna do,” said newlywed coach Lauren Adams (formerly Kelly). “She’s been playing with Madison Diaz since they were in CYO. She just sees things.

“In the past it could be frustrating because she saw those things and no one was on the other end of it. This year they’re meshing well and if someone on the offense isn’t right on spot, she’s much more vocal about telling people where they need to be and guiding them in the right direction on the court.”

‘She’s grown so much as a player from the beginning of last season to now, it’s unbelievable.’

That was tough to do last year. Kerekes credited Stephenson and Kieffer for being good leaders and it was only natural for Kerekes, despite her status as a captain, to defer to the seniors. This season, she knows it’s her show.

“She’s grown so much as a player from the beginning of last season to now, it’s unbelievable,” Adams said. “I named her captain last year because she was our point guard, and I was really hoping she would use that role to kind of take over on the court. And she started to, but this year is just such a huge improvement. She has so much more confidence.”

Part of that self-assuredness was developed from watching her senior teammates last year, and part comes from knowing she is being counted on heavily by the current Northstars.

“I think my confidence is just knowing I am a senior captain and wanting to help my team in whatever way I can,” she said. “I learned how to be a leader from watching the older girls in past years — what to do, what not to do, I can take all of that and try and be the best leader I can be. I really enjoy the girls on the team this year and having their support makes it easier for me to have confidence in my game and take on that leadership role.”

The fact they believe in Kerekes also helps.

“I know that I have the full support of my teammates,” she said. “That definitely makes my job easier being able to call out plays and put my teammates in positions to be most successful. Having played with these girls for three and four years, now we have some good chemistry and we work very well together.”

At 5-foot-5, Kerekes is a veteran point guard, having played it at every level.

Kerekes played in the Hamilton PAL from 3rd-through-6th grade before moving to the Hamilton Freedom AAU team for two years. She also played CYO for Our Lady of Sorrows for one season. Liz is currently on the Hamilton Hot Shots AAU team and is in her third year as a varsity player.

Her ball handling has always been good. This year her shot has improved, which is important as Adams is counting on Kerekes to be one of the players to step in and fill the 25-point void left by graduation losses.

“She needs to be an important part of our scoring,” Adams said. “She can penetrate. She’s little but she plays a lot bigger. She can jump. I’m not concerned about a mismatch on her because she goes to the basket strong and she’s not afraid.”

Kerekes considers herself a point guard, first and foremost, but has become more of a shooter as her career has progressed.

“I want to help our team win,” she said. “If that means taking more shots and scoring more than that’s what I’ll have to do. I am excited for that; being that all my years playing, my role was almost always to make the plays happen and not finish them out. Some games other shooters will be on, and my job will be to get them the ball when I can; and I’m just as excited for that.”

‘Coach Kelly’s motto this year is find a way and I think we have the group of girls to do that.’

The Northstars will be a vastly different team this season and Kerekes’ skills will loom large. Rather than depend on a lot of put-backs and garbage points from its post players, Nottingham will try and use its speed to run while also getting players good looks in a precision halfcourt game.

Returning players include Diaz, Giuliana Pocino and Sara Haas, while Nydia Liles and Patricia Penix both saw some varsity time last year.

“We have some speed,” Adams said. “We don’t have that five position that will kind of slow the game down. It should be a faster-paced game, especially with Liz at the helm because she’s speedy and she doesn’t wait. She’ll get up the floor quick and force other people to get up the floor quickly with her.

“Defensively we’re going to have to be creative. But this group of girls plays well together. I feel confident in the fact that they know where each other is on the court. We can throw some wrinkles into an offense or a defense and they’ll pick up on it.”

In the middle of it all is Kerekes, who did Crossfit with the girls’ soccer team over the summer along with playing in AAU, summer leagues and open gyms.

“I love playing the game so any time I could get into a gym or step on a court I was ready to go,” said Kerekes, who served as scorekeeper for the girls’ soccer team this past fall and will join her sister at Towson University next year. She is looking for one last hurrah with the basketball team.

“I plan to take on more of a leadership role on and off the court,” Liz said. “We always want to improve from the year before and winning any postseason games is a great accomplishment for this team. I think we will be competitive like last year and hope to be successful. Coach Kelly’s motto this year is ‘Find a way’ and I think we have the group of girls to do that.”

It will be up to Kerekes to lead the way.