Past two weekends at Redbird were special for Fox Valley area

  • Geneva and Edwardsville packed the stands for the Class 4A state title girls basketball game last Saturday at Redbird Arena in Normal/

      Geneva and Edwardsville packed the stands for the Class 4A state title girls basketball game last Saturday at Redbird Arena in Normal/ Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 3/6/2017 6:46 PM

When you've covered as many state tournaments as I have since 1976 they tend to become old hat. You hope for exciting games, knowing not every one will be. More than anything, as a reporter you hope for speedy games that don't challenge your deadline.

We got much more than the norm the past two weekends in the girls basketball state finals at Redbird Arena in Normal.


First let me say Redbird remains my favorite venue to cover a state tournament. Not only is it media friendly the place is just plain cool.

The Fox Valley took center stage this past weekend with Geneva winning the Class 4A championship and even though the Class 1-2A weekend didn't produce a championship it still had plenty of Fox Valley flavor, and Elgin in particular, to it.

We live in a little slice of Illinois that has produced some decent state results over the 40 years of the girls state tournament but we have to savor those times when they come along because it doesn't happen every year -- and what happened this year, with three Fox Valley area schools making it to state has never happened.

No one with the IHSA would ever admit this on the record -- and they no longer publish attendance figures at the girls state tournament -- but it had to be happy overall with the crowds that attended the 16 state tournament games -- well, most of them anyway. The small school tournament always draws well, even from really small schools like 1A champ Annawan. Even the private schools in 1 and 2A draw well because they're more community-based than the larger privates. It also didn't hurt that Bloomington Central Catholic was in the 2A tournament and drew a hefty hometown crowd.

Attendance did take a bit of a hit in 3A with Marshall and Simeon being in the tournament, and then playing each other in the third place game, but the lower bowl was pretty full for the Morton-Rochester title game.

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St. Edward and Harvest Christian each traveled well, especially considering their boys teams were playing in regionals on Friday while the girls' teams were downstate. The Green Wave had a nice throng of supporters for their third-place win on Saturday.

For the past several years the Class 4A tournament hasn't drawn all that well and has been somewhat anticlimactic compared to the intensity of the sectionals and supersectionals.

That wasn't the case this year -- and the first thanks for that goes to Geneva. I've covered what seems like a gazillion state tournaments and seen my share of buzzer-beaters to win big games but I can't recall ever seeing a team win a semifinal and the championship game in the manner the Vikings did.

Margaret Whitley and Stephanie Hart are now on my Christmas card list for their heroic last-second shots that lifted Geneva to its first state title.

And, I'm sending Grace Loberg a thank you card as well. What an amazing athlete and young lady she is. Far too often these days student-athletes don't even consider doing what Loberg did this year -- sign a Division I letter of intent to play one sport and continue to play another because they love the competition -- especially at bigger schools. The University of Wisconsin really is getting a gem in Loberg, who will play volleyball for the Badgers but could certainly play Big Ten basketball if she chose to.


Sarah Meadows -- an absolute joy to watch coach -- and the Vikings have much to be proud of and much to look forward to. Even though Loberg graduates, Hart and Whitley lead a talented returning group that should be hungry to get back to Redbird, because as people like Milt Awe, Sue Ellett and Denise Sarna can tell you from their days coaching more than one state final team at Hampshire and Bartlett, getting there once is nice but returning is even better.

Adding to the excitement and the crowd sizes at this year's 4A tournament was the fact that, for the first time since 2011, the title game was between two public schools from close-knit communities. This was also the first time since 2006 that the state champions in all classes were from public schools -- and that was when we still had the two-class system.

This is not meant to stir the public-private debate that's gone on for years but to simply state a fact -- public schools have and always will draw better state tournament attendance than private schools or Chicago Public League schools.

Heard around the arena: One topic certain to be on the agenda of the next basketball advisory committee meeting is the sub-sectional process in the state tournament. Without getting long-winded or detailed here, it needs to go. It's not fair to any of the schools that get placed in sub-sectionals and it just needs to go, period. And I didn't talk to one coach over the last two weekends who disagrees with that.

The other topic that came up this past Saturday will go much deeper if Illinois ever entertains doing what Arizona just passed -- the legalization of year-round practice for high school teams.

Yikes! Let's leave the lid on that can of worms for another day.

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