Class 3A Freeport sectional
Top four seeds: Wheaton Academy, Rockford Lutheran, Woodstock, Hampshire.
Regional hosts: Illinois Math and Science Academy, Belvidere, Woodstock North, Burlington Central.
Players to watch: Gordon Behr, Wheaton Academy; Tyler Crater, Hampshire; Moter Deng, Burlington Central; Josh Hauser, Belvidere; Andrew Kimball, St. Francis; Thomas Kopelman, Rockford Lutheran; Matt Limbrunner, Kaneland; Collin Roy, Wheaton Academy; Phil Schuetz, Aurora Central Catholic.
Darkhorse: St. Francis.
Outlook: IMSA No. 1 seed Wheaton Academy (19-6) is rolling after a Suburban Christian Blue title, holding its own against Benet and going unbeaten since Jan. 18. There's the rub, because that last loss came at SCC Blue nemesis St. Francis, which relishes the underdog role. Last season the Spartans (18-7) bounced Wheaton Academy from its own regional, then topped Orr and Crane before a sectional final loss to Marshall. Opening against archrival Marmion at IMSA, Aurora Central Catholic (14-12) plays top nonconference competition that may produce mediocre regular-season records but have paid off in a regional title and a sectional title the last two years. The IMSA winner meets the one from Burlington Central, where Hampshire (22-5) drew the top seed and tied Crystal Lake Central for the title in the Fox Valley Conference's Fox Division. The other two regionals offer Woodstock (17-10) looking to play whoever emerges from a good group at Belvidere. Rockford Lutheran (22-4) lost twice to 29-0 Class 2A team Winnebago, once to 2A power Seton and once by 2 points in double-overtime to Dundee-Crown, which beat Hampshire by 26 points on Friday. Regional host Belvidere (22-6) was second at Plano's quality small-school holiday tourney and has won eight straight games.
They said it: "It's a chance, for a lot of these teams, to play somebody for a third time, like a college end-of-the-year kind of thing. And this is the ultimate winner-take-all." - St. Francis coach Bob Ward.
Class 3A Nazareth sectional
Top four seeds: Orr, St. Joseph, St. Ignatius, Marshall.
Regional hosts: St. Joseph, Glenbard South, St. Ignatius, Marshall.
Players to watch: John Bonk, Nazareth; Simmie Cobbs, Montini; Logan Goss, Montini; Marlon Jones, Orr; Tyquone Greer, Orr; Luke Lattner, Fenwick; Danny Leach, Timothy Christian; Citron Miller, Marshall; A.J. Patty, St. Joseph; Marquis Pryor, Orr; Chaun Rickette, Glenbard South; Paul Turner, St. Joseph; Connor VanderBrug, Timothy Christian.
Dark horse: Nazareth.
Outlook: Brian Opoka, coach of No. 8 seed Montini, calls this sectional "the toughest in 3A by far." Although a lot of lower-echelon Chicago Public League clubs are here, so too are top programs and legendary names. St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore may have been fortunate his second-seeded 15-12 Chargers are hosting, since Fenwick (15-8) is a No. 5 seed over at the Marshall sectional. Should No. 13 Timothy Christian (12-14) beat No. 20 Wells on Monday, the Trojans -- moving up from 2A -- face sectional host and No. 4 seed Marshall (17-10) in a regional semifinal. Regional host St. Ignatius (16-11) will likely face No. 6 seed Farragut (11-9). The sectional's top seed, Orr (23-3) comes to Glenbard South having won the CPL's fabled Red West Division by beating Whitney Young. The Associated Press' No. 3 team in Class 3A, Orr drew the top seed in the CPL Tournament ahead of Simeon, but lost to Young in the semifinals. Just two seasons ago No. 8 Montini (18-8) was a 19 seed that lost to Little Village in its playoff opener. Now the Broncos could play Orr in the Glenbard South final if they survive No. 9 Nazareth (13-13). But Opoka believes coach John Bonk's Roadrunners are the dark horse of the group after beating Foreman and Fenwick, losing by a point to Benet and playing most teams tight.
They said it: "I think it's a major challenge. Our big thing with the bigger schools is to respect everyone but fear no one. - Timothy Christian coach Jack LeGrand.
-- Dave Oberhelman