The more experienced, highly regarded Rolling Meadows team may have prevailed, but Neuqua Valley showed again that the sky may just be the limit for some of its young players.
In quarterfinal action at the loaded Montini Christmas Tournament on Thursday night, 13-1 Rolling Meadows held off the Wildcats 78-74 behind the usual big nights from guards Jackie Kemph and Alexis Glasgow and a solid effort from center Ashley Montanez, who had 13 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
But Neuqua Valley (10-4) battled with the Mustangs from start to finish and almost pulled off the big win as sophomore Myia Starks scored a personal-high 23 points off the bench and fellow sophomore Kai Moon dropped in four 3-pointers on her way to 14 points.
"We knew they were a good team and we practiced hard to prepare for this game today," said Starks, a 5-foot-6 guard who tallied 13 points in the second half. "I think we feel pretty good about how we played and I thought we should have won."
Instead it was Rolling Meadows, last year's Class 4A runners-up, that advanced to Friday's semifinal action in Lombard against Trinity, which edged Batavia 66-64 to move on. Kemph was her usual stellar self, leading a transition game that led to several layups, several of which she finished herself while scoring a game-high 26 points.
But the Mustangs also had an edge on the boards, as Montanez and Glasgow helped the winners produce plenty of second-chance points as well as grab what seemed to be every key defensive board late in the tight contest. It didn't help matters any for the Wildcats that center Bryce Menendez picked up three fouls in the first quarter and eventually fouled out with 6:08 still left to play.
"We've been playing against some real aggressive teams, including Whitney Young, and we know we have to really work on defense and rebounding," said Glasgow, who had 11 rebounds to go along with 19 points against Neuqua Valley. "They have really quick guards and playing against this kind of team in the second round shows you just how good this tournament is."
The Wildcats led 21-19 after one quarter as Moon made a pair of 3s and Najee Smith also knocked down a long-range jumper. The quick Wildcats guards forced 7 turnovers in the opening quarter and 21 for the game, but in the end the Mustangs' height and balance was just enough to fight off Neuqua Valley.
"They're a great team," Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky said. "They hit a lot of shots and we sort of weathered the storm, and I thought we executed well at the end."
Neuqua Valley finished the night with 11 3-pointers, but Rolling Meadows made good of 26 of 34 free throws to help secure the win.
"You know, it was two good teams and a great game. That's really what it comes down to," said Wildcats coach Mike Williams. "I'm excited about where we're at."