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Except for a handful of token minutes late in the season, Geneva senior Michaela Loebel hadn’t played in a girls basketball game in two months because of a knee injury.
Thursday night she was the straw that broke Wheaton North’s back.
“I don’t know how many kids can not play a game of basketball in over two months and then step on the court and have a great game,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said.
Loebel came off the bench to score 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers at the start of the third quarter to help the Vikings rebuild a double-digit lead. Geneva held on for a 75-63 victory and the Class 4A Wheaton North regional championship.
Loebel, a guard who will play soccer at Nebraska, also had 5 steals.
“With my team’s support, everyone was so encouraging, especially my coaches,” said Loebel, who advanced in the 3-point shooting contest before the game. “They were so motivating. I wouldn’t have been able to play without them.”
“Obviously, they’re a phenomenal team,” Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton said of the Vikings. “We tried to prepare ourselves all season by playing great teams, playing some of the better teams in the state of Illinois, and I think we did it. We showed tonight we could hang with some of them. Geneva’s on a tear right now; that’s 11 in a row for them. And they’ve got great athletes. Those kids are long, they’re good basketball players.”
Junior forward Janie McCloughan got fifth-seeded Geneva (23-5) started with a 14-point first quarter, including a layup midway through the period that put the Vikings up 14-3. She finished with 22 points and 6 rebounds.
“She had a huge first quarter,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. “She has so much passion and so much energy, that’s what we expect, to be honest.”
No. 4 Wheaton North (19-10) fought back, taking a 27-25 lead midway through the second quarter on a Chrissy Baird three-point play.
Geneva responded to lead 39-34 at halftime, then put the margin back in double digits early in the third quarter on a Madeline Dunn putback.
“It was a hard-fought game the entire time,” McCloughan said, “and we just kept stressing the game was never over until the very, very end. We had to keep playing strong, keep playing our game and control the tempo.”
Grace Loberg, who missed Tuesday’s regional semifinal because of a twisted ankle, returned to score 11 points, grab 9 rebounds and block 6 Falcons shots.
“Loberg was huge,” Meadows said. “I mean she was playing almost on one leg and grits it out, grinds it out and puts it together and plays a great game. Huge, huge. That’s all heart right there. Awesome.”
Baird finished her senior season with a game-best 25 points and 16 rebounds. Her ninth rebound of the game, a defensive rebound to start the third quarter, made her Wheaton North’s all-time leading rebounder, just one game after she became the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“She did it through hard work, dedication to making herself better,” Eaton said. “... She had a phenomenal career and I think she can walk out of this gym knowing that she gave it everything she had. The record book obviously reflects that. But as good as a basketball player as she is — arguably now the best Wheaton North has ever had — as good a basktball player as she is she’s a 10 times better kid.”
Geneva advances to play either No. 1 seed Wheaton Warrenville South or Bartlett on Tuesday night at the Addison Trail sectional semifinals.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz