Class 4A Rockford East sectional
Pairings: Monday -- Streamwood (21-8) vs. Cary-Grove (23-6), 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday -- Huntley (23-6) vs. Machesney Park Harlem (20-5), 7:30 p.m.; Thursday -- Championship, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: Streamwood defeated Dundee-Crown 47-23 and South Elgin 54-34 to win the Streamwood regional. Cary-Grove downed Crystal Lake Central 47-24 and CL South 54-40 to win the CL South regional. Huntley beat DeKalb 50-46 and Belvidere North 60-41 to win the Belvidere North regional. Harlem topped Boylan 56-48 and Hononegah 45-42 to win the Rockford Auburn regional.
State tournament history: Streamwood won its first regional since 1988 and fifth in program history. Cary-Grove claimed its fourth straight regional crown and 18th in school history. Huntley won its sixth regional title and first since 2011, and Harlem nabbed its 11th regional title and first since 2004. Streamwood has one sectional title (1988) and Cary-Grove three, the last in 1989. Huntley has never won a sectional, while Harlem won sectionals in 1999 and 2000.
Outlook: Coaches Rod Saffert of Cary-Grove and Steve Raethz of Huntley won't allow their teams to look ahead, but a potential third matchup of the season between the Fox Valley Conference rivals would prove interesting. But Streamwood and Harlem, both formidable foes, stand in the way of that.
Monday's Cary-Grove vs. Streamwood sectional opener pits two teams with somewhat similar styles against each other for the first time since the Trojans beat the Sabres 50-29 in a 2011 regional final. Both teams like to push the tempo, albeit Streamwood a bit more so. But they both rely on pressure defense to create much of their offense.
"They're definitely one of the best teams we'll play all year," said Streamwood coach George Rosner of the Trojans. "They're very fundamentally sound and to beat them you have to play a very disciplined game."
The Trojans, who are on a 14-game winning streak and reached the sectional finals last year, are led by senior forward Olivia Jakubicek, who hit for 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and had 8 assists in her team's regional final win. She gets great support from senior Joslyn Nicholson and the improving play of sophomore Katie Barker has been a key to C-G's winning streak.
"It's been our goal all year to win a sectional championship," said Saffert, now 158-49 in seven years at Cary-Grove. "We've had that established as our No. 1 priority all year."
Saffert and the Trojans know full well the potential of Streamwood's "big three," seniors Jessica Cerda and Deja Moore and junior Hannah McGlone.
"They're very athletic with Cerda and McGlone, and Deja Moore is the one who can give you the most problems," Saffert said. "She really makes them go. Next to (Rolling Meadows' Jackie) Kemph she might be the best point guard we've seen. They like to run and gun and get up and down the floor. This time of year, you have to play defense if you want to move on."
Rosner, now with 385 career wins, says despite his team's lack of sectional experience the Sabres are ready to go.
"They were very focused in practice (Saturday)," he said. "We told them they could enjoy the moment but we have to also look ahead. We'll have to take care of the ball, limit our turnovers and play our defense. If we play defense the way we can we'll be in the game. They have people who can score and we have people who can score. We've been getting some scoring from people other than our big three and we'll need that again."
Tuesday's semifinal pits teams that were not the top seeds in their regionals. Huntley, the 3 seed at Belvidere North, upset No. 2 DeKalb and then dominated top seed Belvidere North in its home floor in the final.
"We're really pleased to come out of that regional and the kids are playing great basketball right now," said Raethz, 214-183 in his 15th season at Huntley.
The Red Raiders continue to be led by the Andrews sisters, junior Sam and freshman Ali, but as of late have been getting more scoring contributions from senior Haley Ream and junior Bethany Zornow. Ream had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Zornow added 11 points in the regional final.
"We're getting great balance," said Raethz, whose team had four players in double figures in the regional final. "Haley Ream and Bethany Zornow have really stepped up their level of play. Haley has stepped up her scoring and it's a great time for her to do that. Bethany Zornow has hit some big baskets for us. If we can continue to get that and have the defense we've had we can be successful."
Serina Cortinez led No. 2 seed Harlem's balanced attack with 11 points in the Huskies' upset of Hononegah, a team they had lost to in NIC-10 play twice.
"We've seen Harlem play and they're very athletic," Raethz said. "They get up and down and they have solid guard play. We'll have to handle their pressure and put ourselves into good possessions. Defensively, we have to contain their dribble penetration and rebounding will be a key factor. They're not very big but they go get every loose ball. They get after it. But if we do the things we can do we can be successful."
Advancement: The Rockford East sectional winner will play in the Feb. 25 Dundee-Crown supersectional against the winner of the Bartlett sectional. Wheaton Warrenville South plays Geneva and Schaumburg takes on Wheaton North in the Bartlett semifinals.
Class 3A Genoa-Kingston sectional
Pairings: Monday -- Rockford Lutheran (22-6) vs. Sterling (20-12), 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday -- Burlington Central (25-4) vs. Marian Central (16-11), 7:30 p.m.; Thursday -- Championship, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: Rockford Lutheran defeated Stillman Valley 67-22 and Freeport 75-55 to win the Stillman Valley regional. Sterling knocked off Rock Falls 50-43 in overtime then beat Rochelle 47-44 to win the Sterling regional. Burlington Central downed Hampshire 36-26 and then beat Plano 38-34 to win the Central regional, and Marian Central defeated Richmond-Burton 56-45 and Woodstock North 64-56 in overtime to win the Woodstock regional.
State tournament history: Rockford Lutheran won its third regional in a row and 11th in program history. Lutheran, which was in Class 2A last year, won sectional titles in 2001 and 2011. Sterling is an icon of Illinois girls basketball. The Golden Warriors won the first IHSA state championship in 1977, finished third in 1979 and fourth in Class AA in 1983. Coached by former Burlington Central coach Julie Schroeder, Sterling won its second straight regional Friday night and 15th in school history. The Warriors also have five sectional titles, the last in 2007. Burlington Central won its first regional since 1990 and fourth in program history. The Rockets have one sectional title, in 1984. Marian Central won its 12th regional title and first since 2008. The Hurricanes have not won a sectional.
Outlook: The next step is in front of Burlington Central as the Rockets continue their record-breaking season under first-year coach Mark Smith by playing in a sectional for the first time since 1990.
"We gotta take that next step now," said Smith, who has done a splendid job molding talented freshmen with an experienced sophomore and two heady senior leaders into a team that won a conference title for the first time since 2007 and set the school record for wins in a season.
"You're tickled to win the regional but your goals have to be more than that. We're enjoying the weekend but we start thinking about the next game Sunday."
The Rockets beat Marian Central 40-35 in the second game of the last day of the Northern Illinois Holiday Classic.
"It was the last game of the tournament and both teams just kind of played grind-it-out," Smith said. "I don't think either team played the way they are now."
The Hurricanes are led by 5-foot-10 senior Shannon Wuensch, who had 19 points against the Rockets in the Christmastime game. Junior Ellen Koscieiniak had 19 points, including 9 of Marian's 11 in overtime, in the regional final win.
"They play hard and compete," said Smith. "They've got a nice player in Wuensch. We're going to have to focus on stopping her. Defensively I think we can spread it out and hopefully our shooters are shooting well and hopefully we'll be a little bit more relaxed."
The Rockets shot just 22-for-71 in their two regional games and had two quarters where they didn't make a field goal, yet solid defense and 21 of 30 free-throw shooting negated the poor shooting. Sophomore Alison Colby had 15 points to lead the way in the regional final, while senior Camille Delacruz controlled the offense, senior Erica Haynes played tough defense and freshmen Kayla Ross, Shelby Holt, Sam Pryor and Becca Gerke continued to mature and provide the depth the Rockets needed to win.
"I think the kids will come out and play their best basketball yet Tuesday night," said a confident Smith.
Advancement: The Genoa-Kingston sectional winner will play Monday, Feb. 25, in the Hoffman Estates supersectional against the winner of the Vernon Hills sectional. At Vernon Hills, the defending state runner-up host Cougars take on Grayslake Central and North Chicago plays Regina Dominican in the sectional semifinals.
Class 1A DeKalb supersectional
Matchup: Westminster Christian (26-4) vs. Freeport Aquin (30-3)
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m.
How they got here: Westminster Christian defeated Harvest Christian 60-21 and Christian Liberty 62-43 to win the Harvest regional then downed Providence St. Mel 58-25 and Morgan Park Academy 45-28 to win the Westminster sectional. Aquin beat Pearl City 55-21 and Dakota 59-38 to win the Aquin regional, then dropped Prophetstown 49-44 and River Ridge 40-36 to win the River Ridge sectional.
State tournament history: Westminster Christian is in its first supersectional in program history. Aquin, the defending Class 1A state champion, won its eighth regional and second sectional title, the others coming last year and in 2000.
Outlook: The task is a lot like David vs. Goliath for the Warriors, with them playing the role of David. Standing in the way of a first trip to Redbird Arena and the Final Four is a talented defending state champion, led by consensus all-stater Sophie Brunner, who scored 19 points in the sectional final win. Elayna Erdmeier's four 3-pointers in the second half were key to the win. Aquin, the top-ranked team in the state, had to win a sectional over No. 6 ranked Prophetstown and a River Ridge team that took second in the state two years ago.
"I really think it boils down to us playing our game," said Westminster coach Ken Flickinger. "We've gotta make them play a full court game. They have good shooting guards and Brunner is going to get her points, we just have to make her earn them. Pressure the length of the floor and rebounding will be a key."
Flickinger says his team, led by freshman Maddie Versluys and juniors Claire Speweik, Mckaila Hays and Liz Meschewski, won't go to DeKalb in awe of the opponent.
"Our kids are ready," he said. "They're confident and they feel like they deserve to be there. They know if they play good basketball we have a chance."
Advancement: The DeKalb supersectional winner advances to the Class 1A Final Four at Redbird Arena in Normal and plays the winner of the Illinois Wesleyan supersectional, either Annawan or Iroquois West, in the first state semifinal at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22.
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