Maine West will try to derail Geneva's hopes of another state title
Geneva's opponent in the Class 4A state semifinals Friday night is a familiar one.
Maine West brings a 31-1 record into the matchup at 7:15 p.m. at Redbird Arena in Normal -- and that only loss came against Geneva 55-53 on Jan. 6 in the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase at Benet Academy.
Senior Madison Mallory won that game for the defending state champs with a 17-foot jumper with 1.4 seconds remaining, taking a pass from Stephanie Hart. That came after the Warriors erased a 17-point deficit, tying the game with 12 seconds to go on a basket by sophomore Angela Dugalic. Normally a good free throw shooting team, Geneva uncharacteristically missed three front ends of 1-and-1s in the final minute.
Geneva also denied Maine West in last year's Addison Trail supersectional, winning 65-46 on its way to the first state championship in school history. Maine West has its own rich history including the 1988 state title under the late Derril Kipp.
"They are going to come after us," Vikings coach Sarah Meadows said. "Last game we played them hard, we had a really nice lead and the buzzer went off, thank goodness. It was a tight game.
"I like our chances, I like we get to play them again, I like we get to play them on the big stage."
Dugalic, Alisa Fallon and Catherine Johnson all scored 13 points for the Warriors in that game. They have won 14 straight since.
The Vikings (29-3) also have won 14 straight games. Hart led them in the first meeting with 19 points.
Both teams feature balanced scoring attacks. Rachel Kent tops Maine West at 11.1 points a game, just ahead of the 6-foot-4 Dugalic at 10.8. Margaret Whitley paces Geneva with her 13-point average; Hart is at 10.2.
Those two return to the same court where they hit game-winning shots a year ago, Whitley to beat Fremd in the semifinals and Hart to beat Edwardsville for the state title.
"It means the world," Whitley said of getting back. "I think it's the best way to end our senior year whether we win or lose. That's a goal for any team to get to the final four. None of us could be more thrilled to end our season down there. It's icing on the cake."
It's the third state semifinal appearance in five years for the Vikings, who also start seniors Maddy Yelle (8.2 ppg) and Brie Borkowicz (5.1 ppg) with sophomore Lindsay Blackmore (6.0 ppg) the first off the bench.
"It was our goal from day one," Mallory said. "We just knew this was what we wanted to do and we set the goal and we got here and now we just want to finish the goal and win it."
In addition to Army-bound Fallon, West's point guard Allison Pearson is committed to North Central College in Naperville.
"Allison is our floor leader," Warriors coach Kim de Marigny said. "She pretty much dictates what we do. If we need to make changes, we look to her for opinions. She is a coach on the floor."
West brings seniors Jessica Riedl and Bianca Mando off the bench along with junior Vanessa Reyes.
"Catherine is our hard working, utility player," de Marigny said of Johnson. "She will do anything for the team. She is one of our top rebounders, a defensive expert and she can get to the rim. She can shoot 3s. She is really the heart and soul of our team. She's a captain so we look for her leadership.
"Angela (Dugalic) is young but extremely talented and a gifted athlete. Jessica is our first post off the bench. She's been a starter the last two years before Angela took that spot this season. Jessica is still quite a presence off the bench with her rebounding and scoring around the basket."
Mando hit 4 big free throws in the final minutes of the supersectional.
"Bianca is a defensive specialist for us as well," de Marigny said. "She is quick, anticipates well and when she is in the game, she gives us a spark."
Like last year when the Vikings suffered a January loss to St. Charles North, this year's group fell in back-to-back January games to Mother McAuley and Loyola.
Players and coaches alike said the setbacks once again helped the team refocus.
"That (North) kind of turned us around and made us fix the little things and when we had two consecutive losses that really opened our eyes and from there we said we cannot lose and that kind of pushed us more," Yelle said. "Rebounding and being prepared for the games. Those two games (McAuley and Loyola) were later at night and so we were kind of tired and didn't get ourselves ready for it. From then on we hyped ourselves up I guess you could say and get awake and get ready to play."
Geneva comes into this game on absolute fire from 3-point range, making 32 of 69 in its last three postseason victories over Wheaton North (10 of 22), Wheaton Warrenville South (11 of 21) and Rockford Boylan (11 of 26).
"It's hard to guard us because you have to guard all of us and we'll all knock it down," Borkowicz said. "If you go to help and guard someone else, someone else will be open and they will knock it down."
Shooting in a larger arena like Redbird can be an adjustment, though the Vikings have four starters back with plenty of good memories of this court.
"We'll definitely have the nerves out of us, or hopefully a little bit less to play under the big lights," Mallory said. "We know how it goes and we know the routine now."
"We've already had a lot of experience in huge games," Borkowicz said. "We definitely have an advantage in that sense."
In last year's supersectional win over Maine West, Geneva led by as many as 30 points. Grace Loberg, the only starter not back from the Vikings state championship team, dominated that night with 27 points and 18 rebounds.
The way this year's Vikings have filled the void left by Loberg in the middle with their team approach to rebounding has been impressive.
"Obviously Grace was a huge part of the team but we've filled that rebounding by everyone stepping up," Borkowicz said. "Everybody has gotten better offensively too and looking to score more and being more confident."
"It's just a great feeling, two years in a row, it just exemplifies the fact we can do it without Grace," Mallory said. "We miss Grace greatly but we still have a great team and we wanted to prove that too."
It should be a fast-paced semifinal.
"We like to play fast," Meadows said. "We like to get up and down the floor whenever we can.
"Defensively, the kids have really bought in this season. They play super tough and rebound by committee. We like to diamond press and we have done a little more man-to-man pressing later in the season. We like to make our opponent work full court."
The Warriors have shown strength defensively, too, employing multiple formations during their second straight Central Suburban League championship season.
"We'll do whatever it takes defensively," de Marigny said. "We spend a significant amount of time each day working on our defensive rotations. Whoever the opponent is, we'll set up the defense accordingly."
The Vikings know the other semifinalists -- Montini (33-2) and Edwardsville (30-0) -- well. They lost by 2 points to Montini earlier this season and beat Edwardsville in last year's state championship game.
Will there be another thrilling finish?
"I don't watch it as much as people think I do," Meadows said of the 2017 state championship game. "But it was on the other night and I watched. I for sure watch that part (the last shot), I have watched that part a lot. I like to watch each kid what they do after the shot goes in."
Geneva is trying to join Benet and Bolingbrook as teams who have won consecutive 4A state championships since the IHSA went to four classes in 2008.