For Geneva girls basketball coach Sarah Meadows, the Vikings' 54-48 victory over Rolling Meadows and a third-place finish in the highly-competitive Montini Christmas Tournament on Friday night was kind of a confirmation receipt.
"We really hadn't played that many tough games coming into the tournament," she said. "But I thought I knew what I had, and the girls came through."
They came through with a victory over a Rolling Meadows team (11-5) which they lost to in the 2014 Class 4A state semifinals, and then defeated in double overtime in this tournament a year ago.
"They (Rolling Meadows) just play hard, work real well together, are well-coached, Meadows said. "They're a solid team,"
The same could be said for the Vikings (12-1), who used a 9-0 run early in the second quarter to surge ahead 20-11.
Geneva gained its biggest lead of the half when junior Maddy Yelle (12 points) scored on a layup and freshman Lindsay Blackmore made a free with two minutes left to make it 23-13.
The Mustangs got to within 28-20 when Kyra Spiwak (18 points) went coast to coast for layup before tourney MVP Margaret Whitley got fouled and sank 2 free throws with 2.5 second left.
Whitley, a junior guard, finished right near her season average with 13 points while Yelle added 11 and senior Grace Loberg, who was a freshman on the Vikings team that played Rolling Meadows downstate, had 10.
"Margaret is clearly a huge factor on our team," said Meadows, who guided the Vikings to their highest finish in the five years they've participated in Lombard. "We rely on her a lot. But we are all about team basketball. We are not going to rely one kid."
"I think the key was definitely being smart with the basketball," Whitley said. "We needed to limit our turnovers. Communication and getting back on defense was huge."
The Mustangs tried to get back into the game after falling behind 35-23 when junior Stephanie Hart hit a free throw with 5:40 left in the third quarter.
They cut the deficit to 35-31 when Lily Greifenstein fired home a 3-pointer but Emily Uplegger hit a big one from long range which extended the lead back to 42-31 late in the period.
Geneva built the lead to 44-33 in the final period following free throws from Blackmore and Madison Mallory.
But the Mid-Suburban East co-leaders kept trying to chip away and got to within 52-48 when Kyra Spiwak hit a 22-foot 3-pointer with 55 seconds left. The was followed by Melissa Spiwak's steal and layup with 35 seconds to go.
Geneva sealed the deal when Loberg found Yelle charging to the basket by herself. Loberg rifled a pass over her defender to Yelle, who converted the layup with 15 seconds left to make it 54-48.
"This tournament is one of the best in the state, so it made us want to work even harder to prove to ourselves that we deserved to be invited to these type of tournaments," Kyra Spiwak said. "We really played well as a team and this got us prepared for our big games ahead."
Also reaching double figures for Meadows was Loyola-bound Katherine Nolan with 10 points.
"We tried to play smart with Nolan," Meadows said. "She's a nice player for them. And the guard (Kyra Spiwak), too. They are both real nice players."
Mustangs senior Kelsey Nallon tossed home two key 3-pointers.
"First off, I am extremely proud of our kids," said Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky. "We came in as the tenth seed and ended up playing in the semifinals (losing by only 1 point to defending Class 4A state champ Benet) .
"This is exactly why we come here -- to play ranked teams in the state. I wish we could have played a little better tonight. But Geneva is a tremendous team and answered everything we threw at them."