2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 3/8/2017 2:49 PM

Meadows, Geneva players reflect on state championship weekend

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  • Geneva coach Sarah Meadows fires up the Vikings prior to the start of last Saturday's Class 4A state title girls basketball game at Redbird Arena in Normal. Geneva defeated Edwardsville 41-40 to win its first state title.

      Geneva coach Sarah Meadows fires up the Vikings prior to the start of last Saturday's Class 4A state title girls basketball game at Redbird Arena in Normal. Geneva defeated Edwardsville 41-40 to win its first state title.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


It isn't often that you receive a police escort into town -- and you did everything right.

Then again, it isn't often that your high school wins a state championship.

Geneva's girls basketball team made its triumphant return back to the high school Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of well-wishers that included family, friends, school principal Tom Rogers, athletic director Dave Carli and Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns.

"When we came around (the corner), there were like eight emergency vehicles waiting for us," said Vikings coach Sarah Meadows. "It was so cool. The kids were going nuts -- it's awesome."

The Vikings (29-4) deserved the royal treatment after a memorable weekend that included a pair of last-second victories, highlighted by their 41-40 Class 4A title victory over previously unbeaten Edwardsville (32-1) Saturday night at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal.

One night earlier, Geneva punched its ticket to the state championship contest with a gut-wrenching 34-33 semifinal win over Fremd.

After winning their first five tournament games by an average victory margin of 27 points, the Vikings faced a rugged weekend challenge on Doug Collins Court.

"We drew it up that way -- nah, I'm just kidding," said Meadows, who owns an impressive record of 148-40 (. 787 winning percentage) in six years as head coach. "We talked about it (playing close games in Normal) a couple times."

Three of the Vikings' four losses were decided by 5 points or less -- 65-60 to Montini; 51-50 to Milwaukee-King; and 52-49 to Oswego East.

"We were hoping those close games were going to pay off at some point and they totally did," said Meadows. "It was a matter of competing until the end and being in the right spot at the right time."

No player could relate better to that last statement than Stephanie Hart.

The junior guard's offensive rebound and close-range putback with 3.7 seconds remaining accounted for the game-winning basket after Edwardsville had grabbed its only lead of the contest 20 seconds earlier on a layup by Rachel Pranger.

"It was totally a lucky moment," said Hart, who finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. "I was trying to get myself in position (for the rebound). The ball slipped through Grace's (Loberg) hands and landed in mine.

"I was really scared though because I knew the other team was going to come at me. I tossed it up there and it rolled around the rim a little bit but it fell in. It was that perfect moment."

Twenty-four hours earlier, junior guard Margaret Whitley's bank shot from just inside the free-throw line with 3.2 seconds remaining lifted the Vikings to a 1-point win over Fremd.

"It's unbelievable," Whitley said of the state championship. "It's a dream come true. We played so well together and had so much good chemistry. I enjoyed playing with my teammates so much -- it made it all that much better."

Outside of competitive dance (Geneva has won 4 straight state titles), it marked the Vikings' first state team title since coach Bob Thomson's girls cross-country squad captured back-to-back championships in 2007 and 2008.

Incidentally, one of Margaret Whitley's older sisters, Kelly, recorded back-to-back second-place individual state finishes on Geneva's state title-winning girls cross-country teams.

Whitley's other sisters, Caty and Taylor, were among Geneva's girls basketball team alums rooting on the Vikings.

"I was texting with several former players -- Kate Rogers, Janie McCloughan, Sidney Santos, Abby Novak, Michaela Loebel, KG (Kelly Gordon)," said Meadows. "This trophy is for them as well. They helped set an example for these kids in middle school. Once a Viking, always a Viking."

That family feeling helped convince 6-foot-2 senior center Grace Loberg to continue her basketball career the past two years despite committing to attend Wisconsin on a volleyball scholarship.

"I would do it all over again a million times," said Loberg, who finished the weekend with 29 points, 17 rebounds and 5 steals. "All of the practices and all of the things I've had to miss -- hardly anybody gets to say that they made history and that they're state champions.

"This is the greatest feeling in the world."

Loberg even had a chance to take a short nap on the bus ride back from Normal.

"We stopped at Krispy Kreme and I think I got a sugar high and then I fell asleep," she said. "The bus ride was so much fun. We were going crazy."

That euphoric feeling may not have taken place if not for that mid-January stretch of 3 losses in 4 games.

"I knew this team was special but that one week we had was a bad week for us," said Meadows. "At that point, we had two choices -- either to respond or go backward. They responded and flew forward."

The rest is history.

Craig Brueske can be reached at csb4k@hotmail.com

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