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Batavia looking to end regional drought
 

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Batavia looking to end regional drought
  • Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com  Geneva’s Sidney Santos (32) shoots and scores over Bartlett’s Elizabeth Arco (20) during Thursday’s game in Geneva.

    Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com Geneva’s Sidney Santos (32) shoots and scores over Bartlett’s Elizabeth Arco (20) during Thursday’s game in Geneva.

  • Geneva’s Madeline Dunn (33) battles Bartlett for a rebound Thursday. The Vikings will be trying to win their sixth straight regional championship next week.

    Purchase Photo | Geneva’s Madeline Dunn (33) battles Bartlett for a rebound Thursday. The Vikings will be trying to win their sixth straight regional championship next week. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Ask any high school basketball coach and he or she will tell you about turning points -- in quarters, halves, games and seasons.

There have been many twists and turns throughout the regular season for our local girls basketball teams, who are set to begin Class 4A regional tournament action this week.

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Led by Division I-bound seniors Liza Fruendt and Erin Bayram, Batavia captured a share of the conference title for the first time since 2007-2008.

The turning point for the Bulldogs came early in December when they ended a 6-year drought by beating rival Geneva 59-51 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division opener.

Batavia (18-9), which beefed up its schedule with the likes of Marian Catholic, Joliet Catholic, Huntley, Peoria Richwoods, Morton, Trinity and Neuqua Valley, will look to put an end to another long dry spell when it opens regional action at home against either Elk Grove or Addison Trail Tuesday night.

"Everything we've done during the year has been in preparation for the postseason," said Batavia coach Kevin Jensen, whose team earned the No. 3 seed behind Wheaton Warrenville South and Downers Grove North in the Addison Trail sectional.

"We're at close to the same exact record we had last year but we're way ahead of where we were last year," added Jensen. "We've played the best of the best and we haven't had too many clunkers."

With Fruendt's ability to take over games with her outside shooting, the Bulldogs have gone from being the hunters to the hunted this season.

Now they will try to capture their first regional title since 1990.

"That has been a goal and a fair goal," said third-year coach Jensen. "But like I told our seniors, it has been a while since Batavia has won a regional game. I haven't won a regional game yet."

One team that has won its share of recent regional games is Geneva.

The Vikings (21-5), who face either Fenton or Glenbard West Tuesday night at Wheaton North, are seeking their sixth straight regional championship.

Their turning point occurred in mid-December when coach Sarah Meadows elevated 6-2 freshman center Grace Loberg from the sophomore team.

The presence of Loberg, who helped lead the Vikings' volleyball team to a supersectional berth this past fall, has been a season changer of sorts.

"She plays a major role for our team," said Meadows. "Her length on defense, her hands on offense, her buckets close to the basket. You can see the chemistry clearly between Sidney (Santos) and her now."

Loberg displayed her all-around ability with 24 points, 14 rebounds, 7 blocked shots and 3 steals during Geneva's 56-45 victory over Bartlett last Thursday.

"It's unbelievable having her on the team," said senior guard Morgan Seberger. "She has helped us tremendously."

The fifth-seeded Vikings bring a 9-game winning streak into postseason play. If the streak reaches 10, they will likely square off with No. 4 Wheaton North in Thursday's regional title clash.

"We like our position," said Meadows. "I think we're going in with some confidence especially because we're playing well right now. I think that helps for sure."

One thing Meadows wants to change is the team's recent habit of slow starts.

"That's my biggest area of concern right now," said Meadows. "We can't have slow starts against great teams. That could come back to hurt us."

Geneva could find itself in an unfamiliar underdog regional role later this week.

"These kids have big goals," said Meadows. "There's a solid core of seniors who want that (regional title streak) to continue. They don't want to be known as ‘the team' (that didn't win a regional)."

The turning point for St. Charles North (14-12) may have come during a 67-62 season-opening loss to Wheaton North at the York tournament.

The narrow defeat proved the North Stars could compete with above-average teams.

First-year head coach Sean Masoncup has done a masterful job of keeping his young squad together, evidenced by their recent victories over Batavia (53-49) and South Elgin (56-51).

"I think we're playing very good basketball right now," said Masoncup, whose ninth-seeded team opens against No. 8 Bartlett (16-11) Wednesday night at Glenbard East.

"I expect it to be a typical 8 versus 9 game," added the coach. "Bartlett is a good team that has been there before. One of their guards (Ashley Johnson) played in the sectional final and supersectional two years ago."

Led by Nichole Davidson and Morgan Rosencrants, the North Stars have already surpassed the expectations of some observers and they should continue to improve next season with the return of all 5 of their starters.

"It's amazing how far they've come as a group since our first game," said Masoncup. "They have really bought in. No one expected us to be at this point in the first place."

No one … except Masoncup.

"My belief in the girls has never wavered," he said. "Learning how to win is a very hard thing to do. These girls have learned how to win."

With a victory over Bartlett, the North Stars could be even bigger underdogs against top-seeded WW South Friday night.

"No matter what happens Wednesday it has been a successful season," said Masoncup.

St. Charles East (13-13) faced a turning point in early January when it lost senior guard Amanda Hilton for the season with a fractured kneecap.

The 11th-seeded Saints begin regional play Tuesday night in Batavia when they take on No. 6 Willowbrook. The Warriors defeated St. Charles East 67-54 back in December at the Wheaton North tournament.

"I think it is a benefit," Saints coach Lori Drumtra said of her team having already faced its first-round foe. "We kind of know what to expect. They're a quick team. And we're a much different team from December 28th."

St. Charles East has learned to adapt without its leading scorer (Hilton).

Juniors Katie Claussner and Kyra Washington have taken on the bulk of the offensive load for the Saints, who handed Batavia its first conference loss (53-48) on Feb. 1 and have posted a 5-4 mark in Hilton's absence.

"It took us a while to get there," said Drumtra. "Katie Claussner has had some monster games for us in the second half of the season. Kyra (Washington) has played well and others have stepped up.

"I'm very pleased with the direction we've gone. I've been coaching for a long time and I've seen when teams have reached their peak. I don't think that's the case with this team."

No matter the turning point this week, all 4 teams just want to survive and advance.

"We want to keep our season going," said Jensen. "One more game. One more week."

You can reach Craig Brueske at csb4k@hotmail.com

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