Andy Nussbaum needed to go back almost 20 years to remember this significant of a game this soon in the season.
With his elephant-like memory, that's saying something.
Nussbaum's unbeaten, fifth-ranked Naperville Central Redhawks host No. 4 Wheaton Warrenville South tonight in a matchup of last year's DuPage Valley Conference co-champs.
To the winner, an early leg up in the DVC race.
"Outside of our tournament I don't know if we've had a game this early of this magnitude," said Nussbaum, in his 25th season at Naperville Central. "Other than maybe 1993-94 I can't remember a game this big this early."
The Redhawks (7-0, 1-0) are off to their best start since the 2009-10 team began 12-0 en route to splitting the DVC with Wheaton North. Naperville Central already owns big wins over Benet and Metea Valley. Victoria Trowbridge and Jamie Cuny are leading the way, and Nussbaum thinks junior point guard Shannon Ryan might be the most improved of the three returning starters.
"I'm really pleased with the way we're playing," Nussbaum said. "The Metea game in particular is as good of a game as we've played this early in the season."
WW South (5-2, 2-0) has bounced back nicely since a loss to Montini Nov. 17. Meghan Waldron has averaged 21 points a game over the Tigers' last three in a four-game win streak. The Tigers got a further boost Saturday with the return of Kelly Langlas, who scored 8 points in her first game back from a knee injury.
"It definitely makes a big difference when we can bring Kelly off the bench. It gives more rest to Meghan and Sierra (Bisso) especially," WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. "She can handle the ball, play on the perimeter and pretty much play anywhere defensively. Meghan has played really well playing pretty much only three quarters of a game."
The two teams split a pair of games last year, each winning on their home court.
The size (Naperville Central) versus speed (WW South) description of this matchup is a bit more skewed this year.
WW South is a bigger team now with the addition of 6-foot-4 Diamond Thompson. And Naperville Central, with sophomore tranfer Cierra Stanciel aboard is far more equipped to play at the fast speed the Tigers excel at.
"Last year it was a divergence of styles. This year we're not afraid to run," Nussbaum said, adding that "(WW South), they are very good. They just attack relentlessly."
"It's definitely a big game for us early in the season," Kroehnke said. "It sets the tone. One of us will be chasing after this one."
Lions getting it done on, off the court:
Lisle always encourages its players to be well-rounded and respectful, with high characters and morals.
Sierra Birdsell practiced what was preached.
On Monday the Lisle junior was honored with the Lisle Character Award, chosen for her efforts in displaying the "trustworthy" pillar. Recently Birdsell and a friend returned a family's lost iPad with family photos and business information on it. Birdsell was nominated for the award by the family, Bonnie and Ticus Pettigrew.
An honor-roll student, Birdsell is a starting center for the Lions in her second varsity season.
"She's just a really nice kid," Lisle coach Dan Murray said. "She just does anything you ask of her."
Birdsell scored 10 points in Lisle's season opener against Luther North, then 19 against Maria.
The Lions carried a four-game win streak into Monday's game versus Herscher. Leading the way is Kelly Urban, who scored 16 points against Elmwood Park and 17 versus Sandwich, and Kristina Fernette, who had 18 against Wheaton Academy and 17 at Plano.
"Fernette's really been playing well," Murray said. "When she lets the game come to her and doesn't force things she is so much more effective. She's not handling the ball as much as before, which I think plays into it. It's nice to have that combination with Kelly. We've talked to Kelly a ton about being more aggressive and she's been doing a nice job for us."
Still getting their house in order:
Through six games Naperville North has shown the potential to be very good -- or not so much.
Every one of the 2-4 Huskies' games have been decided by 21 points or more, including 30-plus point wins over Waubonsie Valley and Minooka and a 41-point loss to Wheaton North.
Just a statistical quirk? Well, there's more to it.
The Huskies were without standout sophomore Kayla Sharples in a loss to Oswego because of a broken finger and against DeKalb because of a soccer commitment. Likewise, starting point guard Zoe Swift was at a soccer event the day of the Wheaton North game.
"We are strongest when everyone is present," Huskies coach Jacquie Discipio said. "When we stick to our goals of strong defense, everything looks better. When we lose sight of that, we struggle."
Now at full strength, Naperville North will get a good barometer game Thursday against WW South leading into its Christmas tournament.
"Once we get all of our pieces together and are fluid playing with each other we're seeing a lot of good signs of things to come," Discipio said. "We haven't hit our zone yet by any means."
New guard in the Gold:
Until last year, when Hinsdale South ascended to the top, the West Suburban Gold was more or less owned by Proviso East. The Pirates won the conference title the seven prior years.
If early returns are any indication, there's a changing of the guard.
Last Tuesday Downers Grove South beat Proviso East 60-45. Then, over the weekend, Willowbrook staked its claim as the team to beat in the Gold with a 79-51 thrashing of the Pirates in Villa Park. Molly Krawczykowski, one of a stable of good Warriors guards, led the way with 17 points.
"Willowbrook's probably the front-runner," said Downers Grove South coach Ellen O'Brien, modestly stating of her team, "we're in the middle. We may challenge more toward the end of the year."
Proviso East, hit hard by graduation, does appear not as strong as recent editions. Still, Downers Grove South's win led by 25 points from Kirsten Zemke carried plenty of cache.
"For what (Proviso East) is known for, it's a huge win for us," O'Brien said. "Zemke played pretty well and our guards got her the ball."
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