Neuqua Valley's kids collected their regional plaque, briefly posed for pictures and coolly returned to their bench.
That's how a team celebrates when it expects to win. And expects more.
The No. 2 seed Wildcats overcame a yeoman effort from Metea Valley's Lori Obendorf to beat the No. 7 Mustangs for the third time this season, this time 62-44 in Friday's final of the Class 4A Metea Valley regional.
"We'd beat them twice, we thought why we can't we do it a third time," Neuqua junior Najee Smith said. "We're just hoping to use this game to catapult us to the next round. We know we have a tough road ahead of us."
Neuqua (26-3) twice beat Metea (22-7) during the regular season, the second time by 17 in Aurora in January, and also eliminated the Mustangs in a regional final last year. Any chance of overlooking Metea was probably put to bed by a few choice words from the Metea side this week.
"We knew they were coming for blood," Smith said.
Neuqua will have its own motivations in the next round when it takes on Naperville Central on Tuesday at the Oswego sectional. The Redhawks handed the Wildcats their first loss this year, by 1 in December, coincidentally on the same court.
Obendorf did all she could to will her team to victory.
The 6-foot-2 senior scored 18 of her 24 points in the first half -- at one point, accounting for 16 straight Metea points -- grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. Even with Obendorf's heroics, though, Neuqua led 35-23 at the half and Metea never drew closer than 8.
"She rose to the challenge and left everything out there tonight," Metea coach Kris Kalivas said. "She can only do so much."
While Obendorf was carrying the load for Metea, seven Neuqua kids scored in the first half. That's nothing new for a team that seems to have a different kid carry the bacon every night.
"We're definitely blessed to have the depth we have," Smith said.
Following up a 72-point effort Tuesday against Lockport, Neuqua came out shooting well, hitting five of its six 3-pointers in the first half and shooting 50 percent from the field. Smith shook off a recent cold spell with 15 points, 10 in the second quarter, hitting three 3s and Lauren Deveikis, Kai Moon and Niki Lazar also hit 3s.
"I was in a little bit of a slump," Smith said, "but it's back."
Allison Hedrick added 11 points, Myia Starks and Bryce Menendez 8 each. Neuqua coach Mike Williams sensed a team rededicated after a surprising loss to Geneva to end the regular season.
"They've been focused," Williams said. "They had a discussion after the Geneva game that our approach has to be a little different because it's the playoffs. The last two games we've probably shot as well as we have all year."
Jenny Voytell added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Metea, whose best season in program history ended with two three-year seniors -- Bria Walker and Anna Petersen -- on the bench with torn ACLs that compromised an already short rotation.
"Neuqua definitely had more weapons today," Kalivas said. "When it comes to this point in the season, it's tough playing with five. We treaded water as long as we could."
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