Is there a more competitive girls basketball regional than the one at Wheaton Academy this week?
Good luck finding one.
Top seed Walther Lutheran, Timothy Christian, Immaculate Conception and host Wheaton Academy all could realistically come out champions and make an extended playoff run.
"This regional is up for grabs," Wheaton Academy coach Beth Mitchell said. "I really do believe anybody can win it."
Mitchell's Warriors (16-10), who beat Chicago Douglass in a first-round game Monday, play Walther Lutheran (17-10) tonight. Walther beat Wheaton Academy 49-43 in January despite 20 points from Warriors forward Sarah Drury, but Mitchell pointed out that her team shot 11-of-23 from the free-throw line that game.
"We need to focus on our defense, focus on boxing out, and making our free throws," said Mitchell, whose team dropped down from 3A this year. "We just got to take it one game at a time."
Timothy Christian (18-7) comes in hot, 8-2 over its last 10 games and champions of the Metro Suburban Conference. Trojans senior Cassidy Block is on fire of late, averaging 20.3 points over her last eight games.
"To finish up the way we did, it gives us a boost of confidence," Trojans coach Ryan DeKoekkoek said. "Our level of execution and commitment has improved."
Timothy Christian did drop a 37-23 game to crosstown rival IC in December, a week in which the Trojans lost two games and DeKoekkoek described "weren't good from a holistic standpoint."
Timothy gets IC again tonight, after the Knights (17-10) took care of Chicago Christ the King on Monday.
An added motivation for the Trojans: the sectional next week is on their home floor at Timothy Christian.
"We have to go in and show that we are a better team than the one that played (IC) the first time," DeKoekkoek said. "We know it's a tough regional, that all four of the top teams believe they can win it. It makes for good drama."
UEC Valley? Flip a coin:
It's an interesting final week in the Upstate Eight Valley division. Should Waubonsie Valley (21-2, 11-1) win at Neuqua Valley tonight, the tiebreaker between Waubonsie and Bartlett will be decided by a coin flip after the game or on Wednesday.
It means more than bragging rights.
The UEC for the first time is holding crossover contests between Valley and River teams this week, the top team in each division meeting, second versus second, etc.
Should Waubonsie win tonight and win the coin flip, they will play at Geneva Friday. If the Warriors take second in the Valley, they are at Streamwood on Thursday. Another twist -- Waubonsie was supposed to play Geneva Jan. 20 in Aurora, but that game was snowed out and never made up.
Of course, Waubonsie-Neuqua never is without meaning, regardless of the stakes.
"I think there is enough motivation without the championship on the line," Waubonsie coach Kim Connell said, "but it's little extra incentive to play well."
Waubonsie won the teams' first meeting 39-33 behind rock-solid defense, a Warriors staple.
"Defensively we played really well," Connell said. "We need to attack the basket, value possessions and take care of the ball."
Spartans spring surprise:
Inexperience and injuries have added up to a challenging season for St. Francis -- but the Spartans sprung a nice win last Friday.
On Walther Lutheran's senior night, St. Francis (3-19) knocked off the 17-win Broncos 35-34. It was a big reversal from a 63-41 loss in December, and a nice late-season reward.
"It was a big win in a lot of ways," said first-year Spartans coach Mike Phillips. "If was good to see the joy on the kids' face and it was a pretty big crowd. All and all, a perfect win toward the end of the season."
Lexi Riccolo, St. Francis' most consistent player and leading rebounder, scored 13 points in the game. Sophomore Claire O'Donnell, brought up to varsity the last couple weeks, had a big 3-pointer in the third quarter and the winning free throw with 10 seconds left after the Spartans had lost a late 7-point lead.
"We packed it in on defense, played a different zone," Phillips said. "We've had a lot of games this year where we were in it well into the third or fourth quarter and we couldn't finish. We finished that game."
Hornets as good as Gold:
The West Suburban Gold crown, property of Proviso East the last few years, finally changed hands Friday night.
Hinsdale South (19-5), under second-year coach Jen Belmonte, continued its outstanding season with a 59-43 win over Proviso in Darien to win its first Gold title since 2004.
A senior-laden Hornets group led by Uzo Okoro, Natalie Tomerlin, Andrea McNally and junior Toni Romiti has steadily improved the last four years.
"They're such a good group, they pull for each other and they are leaders -- this means everything to them," Belmonte said. "They showed that they could do it and they were great."
Okoro missed the teams' first meeting, a 48-30 Proviso win in December, but was a rock in the paint on Friday with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Belmonte pointed to the Montini Tournament post-Christmas as a season turning point. Hinsdale South beat Marian Catholic there, lost to Montini by just a point and nearly beat St. Joseph. Since that tournament the Hornets are 9-1.
"That had a huge impact on us," Belmonte said. "We showed that we can play well against good teams."
Dukes double up in Silver:
York hadn't won the West Suburban Silver since 1994 until snapping that streak last year, but it didn't take long for the Dukes to repeat as co-champs.
If that accomplishment sounds simple, think again.
York (15-11, 9-3) graduated an all-area talent in Mary Colon from last year's team, and has had to overcome a rash of injuries to key players this season. Twins Molly and Megan Holmes both went down with broken bones, freshman guard Jessica Bianchi suffered a concussion and Hailey Park has been sick throughout the year.
The Dukes were sitting at 9-10 three weeks ago after a tough four-point loss to Downers Grove South on senior night, and a 46-44 overtime defeat to Lyons Township.
In came defending Silver co-champ Oak Park riding a three-game win streak. The Dukes won that game 66-52 behind AnnaBell Lansdowne's 24-point effort, which sprung a six win in seven games stretch culminating with last Friday's 47-32 win over Lyons that clinched a share of the Silver with Proviso West. Bianchi scored 10 points to pace the Dukes.
"We had a lot of those moments this year where it would have been very easy for the girls to hang their heads," York coach Jason Reinecke said. "I'm proud of the girls that they battled through it. They deserve this."