A friend of the Geneva girls basketball team made its return Saturday at St. Charles North.
The Vikings opened the 2013 portion of their schedule by bringing back its vaunted diamond press, a tool that has forced countless turnovers through the years but was shelved earlier this season when Geneva lost point guard Michaela Loebel to a torn ACL.
The press might not have led to as many steals and quick baskets as it used to, but it did its job in upping the tempo in Geneva's 61-49 victory.
"I'm so glad it is coming back," junior Sidney Santos said. "It gives us so much energy, it gives us a spark. And it forces other teams to throw up quicker shots than sitting back and running their offense. It definitely adds pressure and is definitely something we all are glad to have back."
St. Charles North (5-13, 2-4 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division) came all the way back from a 14-point first-half deficit to tie Geneva (10-8, 4-2) at 41 entering the fourth quarter.
The Vikings then held the North Stars scoreless on their first five fourth-quarter possessions. Santos made a pair of free throws and Abby Novak scored on a spin move to put Geneva up 45-41, and the Vikings continued to extend the margin over the final five minutes.
Novak took Loebel's place at the head of the diamond. She had 2 steals, and Sami Pawlak hustled for 5.
"It (diamond) gives us a lot of energy, we are lacking that a little right now," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "Even if we don't get steals we get quick shots and a board and that's good enough for us. I did like the diamond but we get tired quickly. But it's the first game back."
The North Stars finished with 19 turnovers while Geneva had 13 as Santos continues her transition from the post to point guard. She played a strong all-around game with 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block.
Santos said she's been trying to work on dribbling drills on her own 30 minutes a day since Loebel went out.
"It's definitely getting better than I thought it would be but I can't do it by myself," said Santos, adding it's the first time in her life she's played guard. "My teammates are always there to help me. They come to the ball and make passes easier. Sami and Abby can jump out of the gym and they just get up and get my passes to make it look nicer.
"Everyone on our team is getting more comfortable in their roles. This half of the season we are ready to show, yeah we had our ups and downs but Geneva is nothing to sleep on."
Sophomore Sam Novak did all she could to keep the North Stars in the game. Trailing 24-10, Novak made three 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the first half including a banked-in shot with 2 seconds to go that cut Geneva's lead to 29-24 at halftime.
Novak finished with six 3-pointers and 20 points; St. Charles North made 9 of 18 from distance -- it outscored Geneva 27-0 on 3s -- but only 7 of 37 of its 2-point attempts.
"She's had a pretty strong winter, had a strong tournament at Dundee-Crown too," North Stars coach Colleen Backer said. "She's really been working on her defense. She's a good shooter, she's always been a scorer. She works hard, she comes in early, she stays late."
Backer kept the same lineup in that made the comeback for the third quarter, and the group outscored Geneva 17-12 with Lauren Durocher and Nicole Davidson (13 points, 8 rebounds) fighting the taller Vikings for rebounds. Alex Silverman's corner 3 and 2 free throws from Novak tied the game at 41.
"You saw some different faces out there," Backer said. "We went on a run with a really unique team out there."
Pawlak led all players with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Abby Novak added 16 points and 6 rebounds as Geneva outrebounded the North Stars 41-31.
"A little jitters there," Backer said of getting outscored 20-8 in the fourth quarter. "You could see some inexperienced players playing against Geneva on a varsity team for the first time."