IHSA state tournament returns, with potential to be very good basketball
For the first time in two years, the Illinois High School Association girls basketball Class 3A and 4A state tournaments are set to tipoff on Friday.
After the coronavirus pandemic led to a shortened, nonplayoff season in 2020-21, this state tournament has a heavy Lake County feel.
Barrington, Stevenson and Carmel headline the Lake County teams set to participate in the three-day, four-class state tournament that began on Thursday with classes 1A and 2A. Here's a look at some of the area teams, which will be competing under a new format. Unlike past years, the 2022 tournament will feature a third-place game on the same day of the semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Carmel (26-7) vs. Bethalto Civic Memorial (32-4):
When: Friday, 10 a.m.
Outlook: Carmel's first appearance in the state tournament is not a shock, especially considered its massive front-line. Six-foot-5 junior guard Jordan Wood, a Michigan State recruit, is the headline player, but 6-4 senior center Grace Sullivan and 6-1 junior forward Mia Gillis have been impressive down the stretch.
"Our length bothers people," Carmel coach Ben Berg said. "We also share the ball and we only care about winning. We're a little old-school in a way where we score most of our points inside the paint and on intermediate jump shots, a lot of shots from 15 feet in. But we're shooting 50 percent from the field."
The Corsairs easily beat Sycamore, which had wins over Nazareth, Bolingbrook, Geneva, and Fremd, in the Dundee-Crown supersectional. Berg credited his team's improved play on defense and rebounding for its late-season run.
"After our Benet game, we learned a lot from that loss and what we needed to do to get better," he said. "Some of the early season losses we had exposed what we needed to get better, such as rebounding, defense and taking care of the ball. All three of those things we've gotten better at. We've also played as tough as a schedule as anybody."
The Eagles are also making their first state appearance, losing just two games in the last two months. Junior forward Olivia Durbin leads a balanced squad, averaging 14.7 points and hitting 110 3-pointers in 240 attempts. The winner will play Morton or Nazareth in Saturday's 5:30 p.m. championship game.
Stevenson (34-2) vs. Benet (30-3):
When: Friday, 2:30 p.m.
Outlook: This might be the best matchup all weekend, with the Patriots looking to win their first state title 1996 when Frank Mattucci roamed the sidelines and Tauja Catchings, the 1996 Ms. Basketball of Illinois, was leading the team. Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said her team is a unique collection of talented individuals willing to sacrifice individuals stats for team glory and capable of playing multiple styles
"We want to push the tempo offensively and put the pressure on the defense," Graham said. "We have kids who are extremely athletic and have the ability to get to the rim which serves our offense very well. We want to spread other teams out, which is our game plan. Defensively, we get after people and play with a lot of passion. We have kids who can get up and guard you, then we have a lot of length in the paint."
Still, senior guards Simone Sawyer and Ava Bardic are the cornerstone of the team. The pair of four-year varsity players have accomplished nearly everything in their careers, with the state title the final mountain left to climb.
"I get emotional talking about Simone and Ava," Graham said. "Simone and Ava have been staples, cornerstones and bricks in our program."
Benet coach Joe Kilbride is no stranger to the state tournament, so look for that to be a slight advantage in Friday's battle of powerhouse programs. The Redwings have won two state championships and placed fourth under Kilbride since the 2014-15 season.
Junior guard Lenee Beaumont, who has over 35 college offers, is a do-it-all player in the mold of former Benet star point guard Kathleen Doyle. Senior center Morgan Demos controls the paint, and the Redwings have a cadre of talented shooters capable of taking over a game.
"Offensively, we're kind of a half-court team," Kilbride said. "We'll run off turnovers and bust out off rebounds, a lot of four-out with Morgan in the post. We're at our best when we get Morgan touches. She draws so much attention, a good finisher with her hook shots and she's become a really good passer.
"We're gritty. We've played, what I would argue, is the toughest schedule in the state. We're battle tested and gritty and know how to respond and a really resilient group."
Bolingbrook (24-5) vs. Barrington (29-5):
When: Friday, 4:15 p.m.
Outlook: Barrington coach Babbi Barreiro, who was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2019, has accomplished nearly everything in her illustrious coaching career. She can now add state finalist to her resume which includes 488 wins. The Fillies reached the state tournament for the first time in program history with an impressive 64-33 win over St. Charles East in the South Elgin supersectional.
Junior guard Sophie Swanson, a Purdue recruit averaging 21.2 points per game, is the driving force behind Barrington's quest to win a state title. Sophomore forward Molly O'Riordan is averaging 11.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in a breakout season.
"I thought (the supersectional) might have been our best game of the year, offensively and defensively," Barreiro said. "We ran things well. We played together as a unit, which was really great. I'm so thrilled with the kids. Sophie Swanson is possibly one of the best, maybe in the top two or three, to ever play at Barrington. She's a really dynamic scorer in the open court and a great 3-point shooter, just a great basketball player."
The Fillies will have a tough test trying to knock off a hungry and experienced Bolingbrook team, which defeated Homewood-Flossmoor and Edwardsville in its last two playoff games. The Raiders, though, will be without sophomore center Tahj-Monet Bloom, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 20 against Sycamore. The Raiders finished in third place in the 2020 tournament, and won four state titles from 2006 to 2011 under former coach Tony Smith, now at H-F.