When visiting girls basketball teams turn to face the flag in Huntley's gymnasium during the national anthem, players can't help but notice a certain banner hanging just to the right of Old Glory, one that commemorates the 2013 Red Raiders' fourth-place finish in Class 4A.
Though the banner might intimidate some visitors, it can also serve as motivation for ambitious challengers looking to test themselves against a state-caliber program.
Visiting McHenry didn't seem intimidated in Wednesday's Fox Valley Conference Valley Division game when it cut Huntley's 15-point halftime lead to 10 midway through the third quarter, but the Warriors could not keep pace for 32 minutes with the hungry Red Raiders, who clinched a share of the FVC Valley title with a 50-30 victory.
"We're targets," said Huntley sophomore Ali Andrews, who led her team with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. "We know teams are going to play their hardest against us, so we just have to keep doing what we do. This is our first step to where we want to get back to in the postseason. We'll take it game by game and take it slow, together."
The title is Huntley's first since joining the FVC in 2003-04. The program's last title came as a member of the Big Northern East in 2002-03. Huntley finished second in the FVC Valley a year ago, a game behind Cary-Grove.
"It's great for our kids to be able to clinch a share of the Valley title," Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. "It's something we set out this year to do. I'm real pleased for our kids and it's a real nice accomplishment, but obviously we still have a ways to go. We'd love nothing more than to be able to win it outright, so we still have more work to do with 2 conference games left."
Huntley (21-3, 10-0) hosts Jacobs on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and hosts Crystal Lake South next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Ali Andrews (8 points) and Sam Andrews (4 points) combined for all 12 of Huntley's first-quarter points. The Raiders led 15-7 when freshman forward Morgan Clausen scored on a smooth post move and drew a foul. She missed the ensuing free throw but gathered her own rebound and scored on a putback to give Huntley a 12-point lead with 4:35 left in the first half.
"Sometimes we come out slow, but as a team we are able to collectively come together," Clausen said. "We always seem to be able to finish."
Huntley committed more turnovers (12) than McHenry (9) and shot 15 of 36 from the field (41.7 percent), but the Red Raiders made up for it by dominating the rebounding battle 37-17. Sam Andrews finished with 7 boards while guards Jessica Brock and Kayla Barreto grabbed 4 apiece in the title-clinching win.
"It's definitely a step," said Sam Andrews, who scored 12 points. "This was one of our first goals. We hope that if we keep pushing and doing what we're supposed to do, we'll be fine."
Sophomore Alex Martens had 7 points and senior Sawyer Lay added 6 points for McHenry (9-16, 1-8).