The Huntley boys basketball team is on the verge of completing a Fox Valley Conference three-peat.
The Red Raiders (15-6, 9-0) can wrap up their third straight FVC Valley Division title tonight with a win against second-place Dundee-Crown (16-5, 7-2) in Carpentersville. Huntley defeated the Chargers 45-38 on Jan. 19.
"This is a big week for us in terms of our goals and where we stand going into the playoffs," senior forward Amanze Egekeze said after Wednesday's victory at Crystal Lake South. "We know we've got to go on the road, play at a high level, execute and get better with each game."
A Huntley victory over D-C would extend its FVC Valley winning streak to 30 straight. The Red Raiders have not lost a division game since dropping a 49-46 decision to visiting Jacobs on Jan. 14, 2011.
Four-year varsity performer Bryce Only said after a recent game the streak connects this team to former teammates like Dylan Neukirch, Tyler Brunschon, Troy Miller and Justin Frederick. "It means a lot to us and it means a lot to them," Only said. "They're definitely telling us to try to keep it going and we're going to try to keep it going."
The current Red Raiders say the streak has no affect on their game-by-game approach.
"Obviously, we can't think too much about it," Egekeze said. "We're just focused on every game, coming in and winning. We feel individually that's what we want to do: go undefeated every single season. We just try to come with the same focus because we know every team is going to give us their best shot.
"Personally, my goal is to not lose another conference game in my high school career. We feel like we have the talent to do it, enough skill."
Dundee-Crown hopes to snap Huntley's streak and delay the clinch. The Chargers have won 5 straight, matching their longest streak of the season.
"We're just hoping to keep it going because we're trying to have a good season," senior guard Jack Buckley said after a win last week.
Huntley completes its Valley Division schedule with 2 home games next week against Jacobs and Cary-Grove. D-C concludes FVC Valley play with a home game against CL South and a road test at Cary-Grove on Feb. 19.
Royals reign once more: Larkin's eight-year title drought has come to an end.
Though Larkin (20-3, 9-2) was idle last Saturday night, the Royals still managed to clinch at least a share of the Upstate Eight River title when St. Charles North (13-8, 6-4) defeated St. Charles East (13-8, 6-3) by 13 points.
The title is the Royals' first since guard Dayvon Ellis and forward Carliss Henderson led the program to an outright Upstate Eight Conference title in 2005-06.
"It's good, we feel good about it," coach Deryn Carter said. "I'm proud of the guys. It's good to get one of our goals. A share maybe wasn't actually the goal, but we can handle business for ourselves if we go out and win."
The Royals can secure the outright UEC River title with a victory at Geneva (16-6, 6-4) tonight at 7:15 p.m. The Vikings defeated Larkin 61-56 in Elgin on Jan. 19.
A key to Larkin's successful season has been the emergence of 6-foot-1 junior guard Kendale McCullum, who joined the varsity midway through his sophomore season. Though not yet completely polished, according to his coach, McCullum leads the area in average assists (5.0) and steals (3.6) and adds 4.6 rebounds per outing.
"I'm just really patient with the ball and I rely on my vision," said McCullum, Larkin's third-leading scorer at 11.5 ppg. "I always know where my teammates are."
"Above all else his feel for the game sets him apart from most high school kids," Carter said. "He sees a lot of things a lot of high school kids don't. He anticipates plays other don't see until after the play has occurred.
"But right now he and the rest of our team need to keep working on being humble and continuing to improve. The teams in our regional keep getting better. We have to stay on track or we'll get run over by the train."
Rising Wave: The Fox Valley area's most improved team this season is St. Edward (19-5, 7-2), which won only 9 games last year. The program is enjoying its finest season since coach Kevin Dix led the 1996-97 squad to a 22-9 finish.
More importantly, coach P.J. White's team has positioned itself to play for a share of the Suburban Christian Conference's Gold Division title. St. Edward and Montini (14-7, 6-2) both trail Immaculate Conception (17-5, 7-1) by a game in the loss column.
The Green Wave and IC will square off in the regular-season finale in Elmhurst next Friday.
"That will be a great opportunity for our team because we control our own destiny, but we won't look at that until after we've played Aurora Christian and Westmont," White said. "Playing for the conference championship is something to be thrilled about, but we have to take them one at a time."
That Feb. 15 clash will be the fourth meeting between the rivals this season. St. Edward defeated the Knights 51-39 to win the Westminster Christian Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 24. IC returned the favor by defeating the Green Wave 57-51 in the title game of the Westmont/IC Christmas Tournament on Dec. 29. The Knights subsequently won a SCC Gold contest 64-58 in Elgin on Jan. 11.
White points to multiple factors for the squad's turnaround, including familiarity with the same system being taught at all levels of the program and more team height.
St. Edward's share-the-ball attitude also ranks among the key reasons for improvement, demonstrated by the similar scoring averages of seniors Adrian Ponce (11.3 ppg) and Antonio Domel (10.6), junior DaVontae Elam (9.6) and sophomore Nick Duffy (10.3). Domel averages nearly 5 assists per game.
"Most of all, it's a group of kids that just decided to say that basketball is our No. 1 focus and we're going to concentrate on improving the program," White said. "And it's not just the seven or eight guys who play every game. It's everyone on the roster playing hard in practice every single day and making us better.
"We've got a handful of kids who want to turn the program around and a lot of them are younger. My goal was 13 to 15 wins this year. They've already outdone that, which is a credit to the kids."
St. Edward and Immaculate Conception could meet for a fifth time in the postseason. Both are assigned to the Class 2A Westmont regional, where the two could meet for the championship. IC is the No. 1 seed and the Green Wave are No. 2.
On TV this weekend: The Comcast Game of the Week shines its spotlight on the Fox Valley twice this weekend.
Tonight's matchup between Larkin and Geneva will be shown on tape delay Saturday at noon and 4 p.m. Saturday's game between Huntley and Dundee-Crown will be broadcast on delay Sunday at noon and 4 p.m.