In the thick of it
Deep in the heart of the postseason for girls basketball, we're also just around the corner from the boys reaching playoff time.
"Eyes on Five" has its sights set on a fun few weeks ahead.
As we suggested here last week, on Thursday Benet's boys basketball earned the top seed in the Class 4A East Aurora sectional.
Does it matter? Other than enjoying the status of being a top seed, not really.
All that matters is with whom you're matched in the regional. For Benet (17-7) that means a likely grouping with No. 8 Waubonsie Valley and No. 9 Naperville North, perhaps at the regional hosted by No. 16 Lemont.
The IHSA will announce the pairings for Class 3A and 4A on Friday afternoon.
So who's not too happy with the East Aurora seedings? No doubt Hinsdale Central and Naperville Central are a little steamed.
The fourth-seeded Red Devils (19-6) are likely headed to the regional hosted by No. 5 Naperville Central (18-5), which is bad news for both teams.
Hinsdale Central's reward for last week's win over York, the top seed at Bartlett, is a trip to Naperville Central. The Redhawks' reward for a nine-game winning streak -- including an epic victory at No. 2 West Aurora -- is, well, a visit from equally hot Hinsdale Central.
Someone was going to draw that short straw. Just a case of bad luck for Hinsdale Central and Naperville Central.
2. Code Red:
While Hinsdale Central enjoys a stellar boys basketball season, a ton of fans recently jumped aboard for the ride.
"Code Red" is in effect.
The term is being used by Hinsdale Central's athletic department to enact the full force of the school's student fan section. For Saturday's West Suburban Silver game at rival Lyons Twp., the Red Devils brought an incredible amount of fans to cheer on another victory.
Estimates vary between 700 and 900, but athletic director Dan Jones said the school sold 500 student tickets on Friday alone. A similar-sized student section packed Hinsdale Central's gym for Tuesday's win over York that put the Red Devils in a tie atop the Silver standings.
Students buying tickets received a red T-shirt and a fan bus ride to Saturday's game. Other incentives have included free popcorn, raffles and fast-food coupons.
The boys hoops team definitely appreciates the attention.
"It's so great to see," said Red Devils coach Nick Latorre. "Saturday's game was the biggest crowd I've been a part of."
3. Going to the limit:
There's a limit to how much each coach can give, and Glenbard West girls basketball coach Mike Hofland finally reached his limit, but not before giving an awful lot.
After 11 seasons guiding the Hilltoppers, Hofland (157-167) told his team after Tuesday's season-ending loss to Geneva that he will not be back next year.
And then he waxed eloquent about his two seniors, Morgan Villafania and Sarah Haggerty.
"They need somebody to put in a lot more time than I'm capable of," Hofland said of the many sophomores and juniors who will return from this year's varsity.
Hofland has been the running backs coach for the Hilltoppers' vaunted football team the past seven seasons, and that meant he was pulling double duty during the busy summers as well as in high-pressure November, when the football team is going deep into the playoffs and the girls basketball team is starting its season. Sleep and family often took a back seat.
"Over Christmas Break, spending time with my family that's when I really thought, hey, I need a little bit of a break here," Hofland said.
Ironically, it's Hofland's family, specifically daughters Madison, 10, and Elizabeth, 6, who took the news the hardest, especially Madison.
"She took it as hard as anybody. She's really enjoyed being with the girls," said Hofland, who will continue with the football team and doesn't rule out a return to basketball eventually.
Also stepping down is veteran coach Ed Boddy, Hofland's assistant coach the past several seasons and a former St. Francis coach.
In a business filled with good people, the Hilltoppers' girls basketball program is losing two of the best.
4. Moving up:
Lost in the startling news Wednesday that the top-ranked Class 4A girls basketball team, Homewood-Flossmoor, and coach Anthony Smith, were suspended for the playoffs came the news that the IHSA approved a new system that will require the most successful private schools to move up in class.
Most affected are the Montini girls basketball, football and wrestling programs, each of which wins state championships about as often has Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Oscars.
The Broncos have room to move up in class; Montini played in Class 5A of eight classes in football, Class 3A of four classes in basketball, wrestles and runs in Class 2A of three.
St. Francis' powerhouse girls volleyball program, the IC Catholic girls volleyball, Montini's girls cross country team and Aurora Christian football also appear to be affected.
The IHSA calls it the "success factor."
So what's the reaction at Montini?
"It is what it is," Montini athletic director Bob Landi said. "We belong to the IHSA, the IHSA makes the rules, we'll follow the rules and go where they tell us to go."
As Landi points out, the Broncos play a lot of bigger schools in nonconference play already. The football team will meet Maine South and East St. Louis again. Girls basketball this season played three of the teams that reached the 2013 Class 4A Final Four.
As for other schools, some will like the move, some will not. If Montini's girls basketball team moves up to Class 4A, that should benefit mid-sized schools like Glenbard South, now seeded second behind the Broncos at the Class 3A Glenbard South sectional. Bigger schools will face increased competition from Montini, which might wind up in the same wrestling sectional as powerful Glenbard North.
5. Stat time:
There's something about girls basketball rebounding this year in Wheaton.
On Thursday night senior Chrissy Baird became the all-time leading rebounder in Wheaton North history, passing current assistant coach Annie Bowen to finish with 828.
Meanwhile, on the south side of town, senior Melinda Franke owns Wheaton Warrenville South's record for offensive rebounds in a season and is on the verge of assuming the record for rebounds in a season. Classmate Meghan Waldron can become the Tigers' all-time leading rebounder as soon as Friday's regional championship game.
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