Several conference races heat up
This week will go a long way to deciding multiple close conference races.
Kaneland (19-3, 7-2) doesn't have much time to dwell on Tuesday's overtime loss to Sycamore that would have put the Knights in the driver's seat for the Northern Illinois Big XII East title.
Now in a three-way tie for first, the Knights play at another of the leaders Thursday night at Yorkville. Kaneland already has defeated the Foxes twice, 53-49 in conference play and 52-38 at the Ottawa Tournament.
The Metro Suburban Red also is up for grabs. Walther Christian (21-1, 9-0) took the lead over St. Edward (14-7, 7-1) with a 56-40 victory Tuesday. The Green Wave can get even when they play at Walther on Feb. 1.
In the Kishwaukee River Conference, Johnsburg (15-10, 8-1) plays at Burlington Central (19-3, 7-1) on Thursday with the winner taking sole possession of first place. The Skyhawks drilled the Rockets 51-23 on Dec. 12 but have been hit hard by injuries since to Kayla Stefka and Morgan Madsen -- those two had 32 of the 51 points in the first meeting.
Even the Upstate Eight River, which seemed like a runaway for No. 2 Geneva -- and still could turn into that -- hasn't been decided yet.
Geneva's closest win in its seven conference games is 17 points, yet the Vikings need to beat Batavia on Friday to maintain the conference lead.
That's because Kevin Jensen's Bulldogs are staying on the Vikings' tail with an 8-1 conference record. Batavia is coming off a 41-37 win over St. Charles North last week when it trailed 37-30 with just a minute and a half left.
The Bulldogs have to hope Geneva has cooled off after making 14 3-pointers last week against Streamwood and 17 against Yorkville.
Jensen also is impressed with the way the Vikings have hit the boards this year after graduating all-time leading rebounder Grace Loberg.
Jensen also said that by playing another shooter in the lineup in Madison Mallory, it's not surprising when Geneva can spread the court and drain 3s like it did last week.
"As a team they are rebounding even better than last year," Jensen said. "Grace can scoop up about anything and put it in, but their guards it seems like it's an even bigger deal to get in and get involved with the rebounding. And they have a little different dynamic with (Madison) Mallory in there who can step back and hit that shot."
In the Upstate Eight Valley, Bartlett took the lead at 5-0 by crushing West Aurora last Friday. The teams meet again in the regular season finale on Feb. 9.
Henning headed to 1,000: Aurora Christian junior Tori Henning is 7 points away from 1,000 career points going into Thursday's home game against Alden-Hebron.
Defensive stopper: When Geneva coach Sarah Meadows hands out the defensive assignments, it doesn't take her long to figure out who Maddy Yelle is guarding.
The Niagara-bound senior is almost always going to take the opponent's best player no matter what position she plays.
That's because Yelle has the unique combination of quickness to stay with smaller players and the strength to guard taller ones.
It's a role she relishes.
"I love having the opportunity to be considered one of the better defenders and being able to guard the best player," Yelle said. "It's a challenge for me every game and I take that challenge."
Yelle averages 8 points a game and is second on the team in rebounding (5.4).
"Maddy Yelle is probably undersized for what we're asking her to do but she's just a gamer," Meadows said. "She's a baller, she works hard, plays defense outstanding. She always impresses me."
Kaneland Shootout: In just its fourth year, the Kaneland Shootout has become a late-season date on the calendar girls basketball fans can look forward to. The 2018 edition next Saturday features three teams ranked in the Daily Herald Top 20 and a number of intriguing matchups.
Two Aurora schools get the day started at 1:30 p.m. when West Aurora faces Aurora Central Catholic. South Elgin follows against Downers Grove North.
At 4:30 p.m. Burlington Central plays St. Charles North. Rockets coach Mark Smith used to coach the North Stars boys team.
Geneva plays Sycamore, one of the best Class 3A schools in the area, at 6 p.m., and host Kaneland caps the night at 7:30 p.m. against Batavia.
Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said some of his players took notice of Geneva's 46-point win over Yorkville, who the Spartans split with in conference play.
"I have a game plan in place for them," Wickness said. "They are really good. One of the top 4A teams the state. If we are going to make any sort of postseason run that will be a good indicator of kind of what we are capable of doing."
Balanced Royals: Without a player averaging 9 points a game, Rosary is winning games this year with a balanced scoring attack.
The Royals improved to 13-8 by beating Aurora Central Catholic 53-45 on Monday, putting four players in double figures with nobody scoring more than 12 points.
One of those players was Sophia Kramer with 11 points and 7 rebounds, the kind of steady performance coach Phil VanBogaert has become accustomed to.
"She's been the most consistent player this year," VanBogaert said. "She's really turned into the heart of our team. She's really developed into a good player. She's smart and she's strong. I don't even like playing against her, play a little pickup, somebody is missing, I don't want to get in the way. My 57-year-old body is going to get broke in half. She's a great player, great kid, we're lucky to have her."
Future is bright: When Jacobs and Huntley met last Saturday in a Fox Valley Conference matchup, there were as many freshmen -- two -- as seniors among the 10 starters. That group also included five sophomores and a junior.
"It's fun to see teams like that because obviously we are very young and both teams have things they need to improve on," said one of those sophomores, Jacobs' Liz Schwartz. "It's fun to see a game like that because you know both teams are going to continue to develop."
Her coach Joe Benoit agreed.
"I think it's going to be fun the next few years," Benoit said. "(Huntley coach) Steve (Raethz) does such a good job with that program. They are getting better every game too."
Identity wanted: Following a 41-37 loss to Batavia last week when the North Stars let a 7-point lead get away late, Mike Tomczak's team didn't come out of its locker room until the boys game that followed was in the second quarter.
Tomczak said the players did most of the talking in that 35-minute meeting.
"I let them talk more than me, we try to encourage that ownership," Tomczak said. "A lot were saying we are better than that. At some point talk becomes cheap and you have to back it up. We're fighting for reputation in this last month of the season. How do you want to be remembered as a team, as a program? Right now, we have a bit of mental weakness label to us. It was a tough lesson to learn that 31 minutes does not make a varsity game."