Champaign, Ill. (UI Release) -- Illinois head coach Matt Bollant has announced the signing of 5-10 small forward Leah Bolton (Chicago, Ill./Marist H.S.), 5-9 combo guard Kennedy Cattenhead (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook H.S.), 5-8 point guard Taylor Gleason (Grand Blanc, Mich./Goodrich H.S.), 6-3 power forward Jacqui Grant (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.), 6-2 power forward Sarah Livingston (Morton, Ill./Morton H.S.), and 5-10 guard Mikaala Shackleford (Plymouth, Minn./Hopkins H.S.).
The class is ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 25th nationally by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and fourth in the Big Ten and 32nd nationally by Blue Star. According to CGBR, the Illini rank behind only Penn State (6), Northwestern (21) and Purdue (24) among Big Ten teams. In Blue Star, only Penn State (7), Northwestern (22) and Indiana (28) are in front of Illinois.
"We're really pleased with this class," Bollant said. "We have a diverse group with kids that can do different things. What he have in all of them is high character and high integrity and kids that are going to come here and get better. We wanted to recruit the state and feel we have four of the top six or seven kids in Illinois. I want to thank my staff. We got in here in late March and early April and by August had six verbals already. Obviously we have players that jumped on board before they saw us on the court. That's really neat about this group."
"Since coming to campus, coach Bollant has surrounded himself with quality and character, first with his staff and now with his first recruiting class" said Chris Mennig, national evaluator for Blue Star. "They have put together the foundation for the future of his program - he has a group of unselfish players that have the length and perimeter skills to help him implement his offensive/defensive system."
Leah Bolton, 5-10, Forward, Chicago, Ill. (Marist H.S.)
Bolton averaged 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and added 70 steals in helping Marist to the IHSA Class 4A sectional title. She was named second-team all-state by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and all-tournament at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic.
"Leah is a great athlete that has some toughness to her," Bollant said. "She's aggressive and strong and will play the 3 or the 4 for us."
Kennedy Cattenhead, 5-9, Combo Guard, Bolingbrook, Ill. (Bolingbrook H.S.)
Cattenhead is ranked as the 14th best point guard and No. 84 player nationally overall by CGBR. She joins Taylor Tuck as former Bolingbrook Raiders on the Illinois roster. The Raiders graduated eight Division prospects last season from a team that won state titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before falling to Whitney Young in an epic supersectional game last season. Cattenhead was the only junior in the starting line-up for Bolingbrook who was ranked in the top five nationally. She had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in the 4OT loss to Young.
"Kennedy Cattenhead is just a physical athlete," Bollant said. "You look at her ability to move, her aggressiveness and her beautiful left-hand stroke, I think her best basketball is definitely ahead of her. We're really fortunate that Kennedy is coming. She'll fit right in with how we want to play."
Taylor Gleason, 5-8, Point Guard, Grand Blanc, Mich. (Goodrich H.S.)
Gleason is ranked as the sixth-best player coming out of the state of Michigan. The two-time all-state player helped Goodrich to the state title in 2012 after guiding the Martians to the 2011 state semifinals. The three-time time all-conference performer played for the Michigan Mystics, who won five state AAU championships with Gleason on the team. She was a three-sport athlete, earning all-conference twice and first-team all-state once in soccer and helping both the volleyball and soccer teams to conference titles. The no. 1 ranked student in her class, she plans to major in engineering at Illinois.
"Taylor is a point guard that plays really fast and unselfish," Bollant said. "She's a kid that's really motivated and will come here, I believe, and excel."
Jacqui Grant, 6-3, Forward, Park Ridge, Ill. (Maine South H.S.)
Grant helped Maine South to third place in the 2011 Class 4A Tournament. A first-team all-area selection, she is a three-time Central Suburban League all-conference performer. The team MVP led the Hawks in scoring (13.1 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg) and blocked shots (2.2) last season. She ranks third in school history in career rebounding and is seventh all-time on the Maine South career scoring list, on pace to at least crack the top two in each category. Grant was invited to the USA Basketball U-16 team tryouts in 2010 and was named the CSL Freshman of the Year following that season. She is ranked as the No. 28 power forward and 156th overall in the class. Also standout softball pitcher, Grant plans to major in education at Illinois.
"Jacqui Grant is a really skilled 3-4 player," Bollant said. "She can shoot the ball, is a really good passer, extremely long and unselfish. When Jacqui realizes how good she can be, she's going to take off. She has all the tools to be a special player here at Illinois."
Sarah Livingston, 6-2 Forward, Morton, Ill. (Morton H.S.)
Livingston is ranked 93rd in the class overall and the 17th-best power forward by the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. She was named to the Associated Press Class 3A all-state team as well as first-team all-state by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and the Champaign News-Gazette. She was the Pekin Daily Times Player of the Year for the Potters, who finished 31-3 and won the Mid-Illini, regional and sectional titles in 2011-12. Livingston averaged 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and tallied 61 assists, 83 blocks and 87 steals on the year. The sister of Shaun Livingston, a nine-year NBA player, she was also a standout volleyball player, setting the school record for career aces and ranking second on the Morton all-time kills list.
"Sarah is a long kid that can play the 5 for us," Bollant said. "She can play with her back to the basket and also come out and shoot it. She has a great upside. I'm really impressed with who she is, as I am with the whole group."
Mikaala Shackleford, 5-10, Guard, Plymouth, Minn. (Hopkins H.S.)
Shackleford averaged 9.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game during her junior season before tearing her ACL in January. She is ranked as the No. 38 ranked player nationally in her position by ESPN HoopGurlz. She also played for the Metro Stars Amos.
"Mikaala is just a tough kid," Bollant said. "Her high school coach, Brian Cosgriff, has produced a number of Division I players, and he said this is one of the toughest kids and hardest workers he has ever coached. Those are the kind of players we're looking for."
"Mikaala is a tireless worker, athletic and has an extremely high basketball IQ," Cosgriff said. "She will make a fine addition to the Illinois basketball family."
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