After Harvest Christian defeated Aurora Christian last week for the Northeastern Athletic Conference girls basketball title, coaches Rich DeTamble and Burney Wilkie joked they would like to play one more time this year.
That matchup would come in the Class 1A state semifinals, so there's plenty of work for both to get there.
Harvest Christian is riding an 18-game winning streak with a 23-3 record. The Lions, who have won two straight regional championships and a sectional crown in 2015, are hosting both the regional and sectional.
Harvest has dedicated its season to 2016 graduate and Northern Illinois' Paulina Castro, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.
"Our team has faced success and heartbreak this year," DeTamble said. "Our hearts remain on Paulina Castro. Since we have dedicated our season to Paulina, the girls have won 18 straight games. I always ask our team what Paulina would be doing now as we face adversity. The response has been overwhelming. Fearless play, staying together and constant praying. Paulina has remained inspirationally positive through her battle and this makes anything possible for us."
Junior guard Alyssa Iverson averages 19.1 points per game. She's also among the area leaders in assists (4.1 a game) and steals (4.3).
After Iverson, the Lions have a balanced scoring attack from Isa Garcia (7.2 ppg), freshman Maddy Martin (6.3), Jenn Kasper (5.8) and the lone senior, Katie Kaldenberger (5.0).
"Katie's involvement with our underclassmen has been imperative in our growth as a team," DeTamble said. "Jennifer, Maddy, Kaldenberger and Isa all shoot well. Nygia Pollard, Grace Ozburn and Iverson run the floor well and have motors that do not end. Our bench has saved us more than one time this season. If our girls can keep believing and stay positive as Paulina would tell them, we have a chance."
Elgin Academy and Westminster Christian are also in the Harvest Christian regional, seeded fifth and eighth, respectively.
At sectionals, the Lions could face Luther North and Walther Christian.
"Both are playing exceptional basketball," DeTamble said. "Keys for us to advance will be to follow our game plans and staying healthy. Our team has been battling the flu and we are lucky to be able to rest a couple days this week. Sometimes less is more when it comes to practice. We need to stay fresh to be at full strength.
"Luther North has multiple guards and shoots a high percentage while Walther pushes the ball and is difficult to stop. If we stop taking possessions off we have an opportunity. Postseason is so unpredictable as many variables are at play. All we can do is play our game just as Paulina would tell us over and over. Her strength is our strength."
The winner of the Harvest sectional advances to the Pontiac supersectional. They will face the Lexington sectional winner, where Ridgeview and Heyworth are the top seeds. Ridgeview is 20-4 and ranked eighth in the latest state 1A poll, while Heyworth is among the other teams receiving votes.
"This might be the year for them and I wish them all the best," Wilkie said.
Aurora Christian is 18-8 led by sophomore Tori Henning (17.3 ppg), junior Paris Chaney (9.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and junior Alexandra Fry (7.1 ppg). Junior Megan Hart averages 8 rebounds a game.
The Eagles are gunning for their fourth regional championship in the last five years while making the transition to the 1A field which has made scouting opponents more challenging for Wilkie.
"Dropping from 2A to 1A has definitely made things a little bit more difficult," Wilkie said. "I am definitely not as familiar with teams we may have as I have been in the past. It has been somewhat difficult getting info on teams at our regional."
Aurora Christian is the top seed in its regional and opens against either Hinckley-Big Rock or Mooseheart, with either Chicago Fenger or Somonauk in the championship. Somonauk features the fourth 1,000-point scorer in school history, Madison Kawall.
If the Eagles advance to the Serena sectional, they could meet Ashton-Franklin Center, the second-ranked team in Class 1A with a 22-2 record featuring a dominant inside game. Annawan, who also has a strong post, and Newark, who beat Aurora Christian in overtime early in November, also could be in the sectional.
"To say the sectional is loaded with great teams is an understatement," Wilkie said. "We have had a great year thus far and some people even think we may be a year ahead of schedule. But our goals have not changed since the beginning of the year. We have our eyes fixed on winning our regional. We have never won a game in the sectional and with kids like Tori, Paris and Alex, we feel like the sky's the limit for this group. We will have to play our best basketball to advance anywhere in the state tournament."
Class 2A: St. Edward (22-5) is the lone Fox Valley area team in Class 2A and, on paper at least, things look favorable for the Green Wave to have a deep postseason run.
St. Edward is in the Guerin sectional complex, which is made up largely of Chicago schools. The Green Wave is the top seed in its sub-sectional and will play in the Guerin regional. St. Edward, the Metro Suburban Blue champion, opens regional play on Tuesday, Feb. 7 against the winner of No. 6 Chicago Academy and No. 10 Woodlands Academy. The winner between No. 5 Guerin and No. 11 Cristo Rey St. Martin will take on No. 4 Uplift in the other semifinal.
St. Edward, which has not won a regional since 2011, has been led all season by 5-3 senior guard Maddie Spagnola, who averages 23 points and close to 5 steals per game. Senior Katelyn Castoro and junior Yssa Sto. Domingo have shown the ability to score as well for a team that averages 60 points per game, third best in the area.
"We're just going to take things one game at a time," said 13th-year Wave coach Michelle Dawson, who won her first conference title as a head coach this season. "We have high expectations for the postseason."
If St. Edward can advance from the regional round, the Wave would play the winner of the Chicago Raby regional, where Chicago Clark is the top seed, in the sectional semifinals. Chicago Latin is the top seed on the other side of the sub-sectional bracket.
The winner of the Guerin sectional advances to the Concordia University supersectional Feb. 20 to face the winner of the Lisle sectional. Beecher, Lisle, Illiana Christian and Chicago Tilden are the top seeds in the Lisle sectional.
Class 3-4A seeds: Geneva, South Elgin and Kaneland each earned No. 1 seeds for the upcoming postseason, as released by the IHSA on Thursday.
Geneva is the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Glenbard West sectional complex, followed by Wheaton North, Rolling Meadows and St. Charles East. St. Charles North is No. 6, Bartlett No. 10 and Batavia No. 15. St. Charles East, Conant, Batavia and Hoffman Estates are regional hosts.
In the Class 4A Hampshire sectional, which is split into sub-sectionals due to the Rockford-area schools, South Elgin is the No. 1 seed in sub-sectional A. Dundee-Crown is the No. 2 seed, Cary-Grove No. 4, Streamwood No. 5, Jacobs No. 6, Crystal Lake South No. 7, Larkin No. 8 and Elgin No. 11. No. 3 McHenry and Larkin are the regional hosts.
In sub-sectional B, Hampshire is the No. 4 seed and Huntley No. 7. No. 1 seed Rockford Boylan and No. 8 Harlem are the regional hosts.
West Aurora is the No. 13 seed in the East Aurora sectional, where Benet is No. 1.
In Class 3A, Kaneland is the host of a sectional that is also broken into sub-sectionals. The Knights are the No. 1 seed in sub-sectional A while Rosary is No. 4, Aurora Central Catholic No. 5 and Burlington Central No. 7. Wheaton Academy and IMSA are the regional hosts. Rockford Lutheran is the No. 1 seed in sub-sectional B.
The IHSA will release Class 3-4A pairings on Friday.