NORMAL -- Moments after Geneva defeated Maine West Friday night to advance to the Class 4A state championship game, Vikings coach Sarah Meadows walked into the media room where IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha asked, "Coach, what's it feel like to be back in the championship game and have another shot against Montini?"
Meadows didn't waste a second in replying, "Oooooh. I like the last comment. I think we're excited about that."
After she and her players answered questions for about 10 minutes, Meadows got up from the podium and said, "We'll see you all tomorrow night. Let's go!"
I think if Meadows had her druthers, Geneva would have walked right back onto the Redbird Arena court and played Montini then and there.
The Vikings waited 24 hours and got the result they wanted, a 28-26 state championship win on Stephanie Hart's 18-foot jumper from the right baseline with three seconds left.
The confidence Meadows instills in her team is one of the many things that makes her such a successful coach, now 177-43 in seven seasons that includes three trips to state and two state championships.
She's the perfect mix of a coach who her players absolutely love playing for while at the same time a coach who is the first to work on their mistakes. You also never see Geneva unprepared or playing poor fundamentally. All that energy and enthusiasm in Meadows' personality comes out each time her players take the court.
So what if Montini had not lost a game to an Illinois school all year? Who cares if the Broncos had won every recent meeting over Geneva, including a 64-47 decision in the 2016 sectional finals and a much tighter 52-50 win earlier this season in the championship game of Montini's Christmas tournament?
There was no team Geneva -- or Meadows -- wanted to play more.
The Vikings came through, winning their second straight state championship after last year's equally thrilling 41-40 win over Edwardsville.
"Doing this a second time against a team we have always lost to means so much," said senior Maddy Yelle, who did as much to win the championship game as anyone.
Some other observations from a state tournament that was anything but normal for the two-time defending champs ...
The final score: I heard a few remarks from more casual fans about the 28-26 final score.
First of all, as Montini coach Jason Nichols said, when two teams know each other as well as these two, it wasn't going to be a pretty game. Whoever won was going to have to grind it out.
Sure, there were shots that Hart and Margaret Whitley missed that had been going in throughout the season. Yes, Montini had several costly turnovers.
But it also was great defense from Montini that made Hart and Whitley shoot those shots a little quicker than they liked, or a little further away, or with a hand contesting them a little more than they were used to. The Broncos played outstanding defense and they did it without fouling -- Geneva only got to the line twice which also kept the final score down.
Geneva's defense was even better. Montini had several possessions that went on and on as Geneva stayed with their girl, pressured the ball, and didn't allow easy entry passes into the post where Montini had such a height advantage. Most of those turnovers were a credit to the Vikings.
I can't tell you how many times through the years I've interviewed a girls or boys coach after a cold-shooting loss when they'll say something along the lines of, "Sure, we didn't shoot well tonight, but that's when you've got to find other ways to win a game. You've got to find a way to win a 38-36 game."
Geneva did exactly that and then some on the biggest stage Saturday night. The Vikings somehow found a way to win when their two best scorers shot 2 for 11 and 2 for 10, scoring 5 and 4 points. They dug remarkably deep, gutting out stop after stop on the defensive end to hold Montini to 5 points in the second half, 0 points in the fourth quarter, and staying close enough to tie the game on a fastbreak layup by Yelle and Whitley's banker in the lane. They then took excellent care of the ball to hold for the final shot, and executed that to perfection.
Sure, maybe if it would have been a 52-50 game like the first meeting between the teams, or their 65-60 final last year, you wouldn't hear any comments. But it happens, and it doesn't mean the quality of basketball was any worse, or there was any less drama or tension over the thrilling final minutes.
It reminded me of the 2006 boys state championship game when Simeon defeated Peoria Richwoods 31-29. And Simeon had future NBA MVP Derrick Rose in its lineup. And scored 31 points. And that one took overtime.
The final shot: A friend put Hart's game-winning shot in the best perspective I've heard.
"She got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime moment ... twice."
You can't make a story like this up. A school wins back-to-back state championships, and the same player makes the last shot in two straight title game wins?
"That's what she does," Meadows said. "She is chill, calm, composed the whole time. I don't expect her to miss that shot any day."
The final numbers: For a remarkable senior class led by four-year starters Hart and Whitley that also includes starters Yelle, Madison Mallory and Brie Borkowicz, and Anna Burke, Anilise Bragg, Brittany Caskey and Lexie Moore ...
A 108-19 record, and most of those losses came to elite teams like Montini (3 times), New Trier in the supersectionals as freshmen and Rufus King from Milwaukee. They went 23-7 as freshmen, then 25-5, 29-4 and 31-3.
Four regional and conference titles.
Three sectional crowns.
Three supersectional titles.
Two state championships.
And hundreds of happy memories for a huge Geneva fan base that easily drew best at Redbird Arena, probably doubling up Montini's crowd Saturday night.
The final thought: I can't say enough or be happier for Meadows and these players. Having watched Grace Loberg dominate inside the previous three years, I thought Geneva would be great again this year but wasn't sure the Vikings could win the toughest of tough games you need to win a state championship with Loberg off playing volleyball at Wisconsin.
But they did just that, finishing with an even better record, doing it playing remarkable team basketball the right way.
As Borkowicz said, every player got better offensively, focused more on getting rebounds, and basically doing whatever it takes to win. It's so fun to watch.
Put that all together, and you've got the best team in the state. Again.