The boys basketball teams from Huntley and Elgin gave fans a glimpse of the not-so-distant future Tuesday night.
Not only were they two of the most consistent teams in the northern Fox Valley all season long, the Red Raiders and the Maroons also happen to be two of the area's youngest squads. Each stands an excellent chance of experiencing sectional basketball again this time next year.
How young are we talking? Of the 16 players from both sides who checked into Huntley's 57-46 victory, only three were seniors: Huntley's Tyler Brunschon and Dylan Neukirch and Elgin's Jordan Dean. Of the 103 total points in the game, 79.6 percent were scored by non-seniors.
Both Huntley and Elgin are expected to peak next season when the bulk of the players who make up their respective nuclei reach their senior seasons. Each club has experienced enough success this season to make them the squads to watch in 2011-12.
Elgin finished the season with a record of 22-7. The Maroons won the Buffalo Grove Thanksgiving Tournament, finished second at their own holiday tournament, won the outright division title in the Upstate Eight River and garnered their first regional title in three seasons.
Not bad for a team that won only 7 games the year before with essentially the same personnel.
"I hope it's a learning experience," fourth-year Elgin coach Mike Sitter said after the loss. "Otherwise, if they didn't learn anything from it, we're going to be right here first game of the sectional next year losing again. Hopefully, we learn from it and get better from it and take another step next year."
Sitter's postgame comments centered on Huntley's ability to play more physical basketball than the Maroons, who Sitter said need to hit the weight room in the off-season. They'll do just that if junior floor leader Kory Brown has anything to say about it.
"We learned that we have a lot of work to do," Brown said after the loss. "(Today) starts a new adventure for the rest of us that are still here. We're mad and sad that Jordan and the rest of our seniors have to leave us. We were hoping to do better. We were hoping to at least get to supersectionals for him. It makes it all the sadder that we couldn't do it for him.
"But I'm going to start as soon as I get up (today). I'll do some kind of workout -- shooting, dribbling, weights, something to do with basketball -- to strengthen myself to prepare for this again, to prepare for next season."
The immediate future is brighter for the Red Raiders, whose postseason continues Friday night against the winner of tonight's semifinal between South Elgin (16-12) and Rockford Auburn (24-4).
Few programs can match the championship-game experience Huntley (24-4) has gained this season. The Red Raiders won the Sycamore Thanksgiving Tournament, finished second at the Jacobs holiday tournament and won their third regional title in coach Marty Manning's five seasons.
Now, they have a shot to win the second sectional title in school history. Win or lose come Friday, the success Huntley has experienced this season makes the Red Raiders one of the Chicago area's teams to watch heading into next season.
"I think it was very important just so we can say we're used to this atmosphere," Manning said of Tuesday's win. "We don't get to play too many teams as quick as Elgin, and I didn't know how they were going to respond in this type of atmosphere with that type of pressure. But I thought they did a good job.
With Brunschon held to 3 points due to early foul trouble and Neukirch (8 points) concentrating on his defense against Brown, the bulk of the scoring fell to Huntley juniors Troy Miller (22 points) and Justin Frederick (16 points).
"They did a great job," Neukirch said. "With me and Ty struggling, Troy, Justin and everyone else stepped up so much. Me and Ty are just so grateful to have teammates who aren't seniors but play like it every single time the step on the court."
With so many players back next year for each team, it wouldn't be a shock whatsoever to see these teams doing battle once again next March.
"That should be a great game next year," Neukirch added with a smile.
Gotta agree with you there, Dylan.