The state of girls basketball arguably has never been better than it was this season for our local high school teams.
Aurora Christian repeated as Class 2A regional champions with last month's 53-49 upset of top-seeded Seneca.
Batavia, led by Daily Herald Tri-Cities Honorary Captain Liza Fruendt, earned a share of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title and went on to capture its first regional championship in 24 years with a 63-42 victory over Willowbrook.
The Bulldogs advanced all the way to the Class 4A sectional finals before their 48-24 loss to co-UEC River Division champion and neighboring rival Geneva.
Speaking of Geneva, the Vikings continued their seemingly annual winning ways.
Anchored by seniors Sidney Santos and Morgan Seberger, the Vikings captured their sixth consecutive Class 4A regional title with a 75-63 win over Wheaton North on the Falcons' home floor.
Geneva claimed its fourth sectional crown in 6 years with the one-sided victory over Batavia and brought home the state's fourth-place trophy for the second time in 6 seasons last weekend at Illinois State University in Normal.
Together, Batavia and Geneva combined for a 47-17 record (20-4 in conference play) and .734 winning percentage.
Two area teams that made the biggest improvement from the previous year were West Aurora and St. Charles North.
After winning just 6 games in 2012-13, coach Connie Siljendahl's Blackhawks enjoyed a 19-9 campaign that ended with a 56-51 regional championship loss to eventual sectional finalist Oswego.
Meanwhile, St. Charles North first-year head coach Sean Masoncup guided the North Stars to an amazing turnaround season of their own.
After posting an 8-20 mark in 2012-13, the North Stars finished with a winning record of 14-13 without a single senior in their starting lineup.
Had it not been for a season-ending knee injury suffered by 4-year varsity player Amanda Hilton in mid-January, St. Charles East (13-14) likely would have joined the list of winning programs this past season.
Even without Hilton, the Saints made things interesting.
In early February, juniors Kyra Washington and Katie Claussner led the way as the Saints handed Batavia its first conference loss -- 53-48 on the Bulldogs' Senior Night.
St. Charles East also gave sixth-seeded Willowbrook all it could handle during a 58-56 regional semifinal loss to the Warriors.
It was a season filled with career milestones for our area players.
During the season-opening Schaumburg Holiday Tournament in November, St. Charles East senior guard Amanda Hilton recorded her 1,000th career point by connecting on a 3-pointer from the top of the key against eventual Class 3A state champion Montini.
In late-December, Aurora Christian senior Alyssa Andersen notched her 1,000th career point against Rochelle at the Dixon Christmas Tournament.
In mid-January, Batavia's Fruendt broke Katy Issel's school career scoring record of 1,594 points with a left-hand layup in the third quarter of the Bulldogs' 63-41 victory over host St. Charles East.
Nearly a month later, Fruendt established a new family milestone when she passed older brother Nick's career scoring total (1,849 points) by draining a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs' 68-51 regional semifinal victory over Elk Grove. The Missouri State-bound senior finished her career with 1,921 points.
Perhaps the best coaching decision occurred in mid-December when Geneva head coach Sarah Meadows called 6-2 freshman center Grace Loberg up from the junior varsity.
Loberg, who earned all-conference accolades while leading the Vikings' volleyball team to its first supersectional berth last fall, proved to be an instant sensation on the basketball court as well.
She scored a team-high 15 points in her varsity basketball debut against Streamwood and was the Vikings' leading scorer over their next 4 games.
Loberg, who led or shared team rebounding honors in 12 consecutive contests, was the Vikings' leading scorer in 13 games and was their top rebounder in 17 games.
If it wasn't for Fruendt, Loberg could have become the first player to go from not being on a varsity team at the start of the season to Honorary Captain status by season's end.
She was a season changer for the Vikings.
"There's a difference between the hunters trying to keep up with the state contenders and being the hunted wearing targets on our back." -- Batavia coach Kevin Jensen.
"Of course, I'd love to have her (injured Amanda Hilton) playing. She has been starting since her freshman year. I'm used to writing down number 23 when filling out our starting lineup." -- St. Charles East coach Lori Drumtra.
"She's the only girl I look eye-to-eye with." -- St. Charles North coach Sean Masoncup said of 6-2 Geneva center Grace Loberg.
"One of the toughest things to do is to learn how to win. We've won some good games. My belief in the girls has never wavered." -- St. Charles North coach Masoncup.
"They don't want to be known as ‘the team' (that didn't win a regional title)." -- Geneva coach Sarah Meadows.
"She's the last one to leave practice. I started to kick her out so now she brings her own ball so she isn't kicked out. That is the type of player we want." -- St. Charles East coach Drumtra said of junior guard Katie Claussner.
"When I took over the job, the only thing I was not looking forward to was this moment. The last 10 years I was able to be the second or third person to talk (to the media) -- not the first one." -- St. Charles North coach Masoncup after his team's season-ending regional semifinal loss to Bartlett.
On a roll
While Batavia won 7 consecutive games early in the season, Geneva (26-7) compiled a 14-game winning streak during a stretch that included a 5-game postseason run.
Alyssa Andersen, Aurora Christian; Liza Fruendt, Batavia; Amanda Hilton, St. Charles East; Sidney Santos, Geneva; Morgan Seberger, Geneva; Abriya Zeitz, West Aurora.
Katie Claussner, St. Charles East; Nichole Davidson, St. Charles North; Hannah Frazier, Batavia; Grace Loberg, Geneva; Janie McCloughan, Geneva; Morgan Rosencrants, St. Charles North; Kyra Washington, St. Charles East.
Nichole Davidson, St. Charles North; Chloe John, St. Charles East; Janie McCloughan, Geneva; Hannah Nowling, St. Charles East; Bethany Orman, Batavia.
Rachel Choice, Rosary; Liza Fruendt, Batavia; Kyla Helsel, St. Charles North; Janie McCloughan, Geneva; Abby Novak, Geneva.
First off the Bench
Madeline Dunn, Geneva; Liz McNally, St. Charles North; Taylor Williams, Geneva; Hannah Vitkus, St. Charles East; MacKenzie Foster, Batavia.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org