There may not be a team in the suburbs quite like Neuqua Valley's girls basketball team, one that can make opposing squads look bad on a given day or night.
When the Wildcats get their calling card going -- the full court trap -- in all-out suffocation mode, they force teams like South Elgin to play hot potato with the basketball, as they did in Friday's Upstate Eight Valley matinee in South Elgin.
And while the Wildcats (16-1, 6-0) shot 26 of 62 from the field in what wasn't their prettiest of offensive outputs, they managed to shut the Storm's door at half-court with 24 steals in their 63-25 win in a rough-and-tumble affair with few whistles while bodies flew everywhere.
At one point, Neuqua's Kai Moon almost took out a few girls on her own bench diving for a steal in the first quarter and Myia Starks had to come out for the last 10 seconds of the first half after she hit the ground hard near the rim after her circuslike layup flushed through. Moon had to complete the old-fashioned 3-point play, but it was that physicality and urgency that allowed the Wildcats to score 14 points off turnovers in the first half where the game got away quickly from South Elgin, which committed 32 turnovers on the day.
"Our team is all about playing hard and being aggressive," they Wildcats' Najee Smith said. "We absolutely love when we're flying on the ground, diving on the basketball. We love it."
Allison Hedrick scored a game-high 24 points on 11 of 15 shooting, an anomaly to say the least on a bad shooting day for Neuqua, which saw at least 6 Wildcats with 3 steals each, including Hedrick, who had 4 and poured in 6 of her points in the first quarter when Neuqua raced out to a 14-2 lead and forced 15 turnovers.
"Our trap and full court press is really what gets us going," Wildcats' coach Mike Williams said. "That's our engine and if we can do that, we're going to be OK. We're 16-1 right now and all of it is how we run and play. We have kids that come off the bench and play hard, too."
South Elgin (9-9, 2-4) never led and managed just 6 points at the half as the iron was unkind. The Storm shot 10 of 43 from the field and were outrebounded 31-21 as the Wildcats hauled in 12 offensive rebounds as well.
"We knew we had to pickup the energy and aggressiveness," Hedrick said. "It definitely was a physical game but we never stopped, we always had that aggressive approach."
Five players for Neuqua all chipped in 5 points or more, including Smith who had 5, while Starks and Bryce Menendez had 6 and Moon and Lauren Deveikis had 5 apiece.
South Elgin coach Tim Prendergast didn't get that output, and you could see on his face the frustration and disappointment, as he called 3 timeouts in the first quarter alone.
"Neuqua's fast and athletic and we didn't come in with our A game today," he said. "We struggled with their press and it led to a lot of their points in the first half. We threw the ball away throughout the course of the game and you're not going to win a lot of games when you do that."
Nell Wentling led the Storm with 10 points, all coming in the second half.