Benet, Geneva, Hersey take different paths -- but all still eye 4A title
Rilee Hasegawa knows the tough hurdle in front of Geneva.
Benet (23-7) and Geneva (29-3), both No. 1 sectional seeds who emerged from tough supersectional matchups Monday, will meet in the Class 4A state semifinals at 4:15 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
In the other semifinal, 28-8 Hersey takes on 32-4 O'Fallon.
The games will be televised on WCIU.
"I think this game against Benet will be one of our biggest tests yet," said Hasegawa, Geneva's senior guard. "Their team is filled with just as many talented girls as us with decently even matchups. But with the way we have been playing, I believe if our steam sticks together and plays full Geneva basketball, we will have a great chance of winning."
Geneva is back at state for the first time since winning back-to-back Class 4A championships in 2017 and 2018. Benet, meanwhile, is making its fifth state appearance since 2015 after taking fourth last season.
The Redwings are led by Associated Press First Team All-Stater Lenee Beaumont, a senior guard and Indiana recruit. It figures to be a difficult assignment for Geneva's zone-based defense.
"Benet is a really good basketball team," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "Disciplined, patient and always well-coached. Beaumont is their leader and our kids understand that. She is a nice player who does a lot for their team. They play well together."
Beaumont averages 18.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, all team-highs. She scored 25 points and had the game-winning assist in the final seconds of Monday's supersectional win over Kenwood.
"With Lenee being an incredibly hard player to guard, it's important for our team to have full communication on the court," Hasegawa said. "We had that challenge playing Barrington, with a packed gym and constant cheering. But I think we did a great job with team help defense during the game and that's what we need to continue for against Benet."
The Vikings will counter with an equally dangerous frontcourt, led by Lauren Slagle, Leah Palmer and Cassidy Arni.
Palmer, in particular, will be a featured component of Geneva's offensive attack. Palmer has turned in standout performances all postseason, led by her 20-point and six-rebound performance in the supersectional vs. Barrington and 18 points and six rebounds in the sectional final against Batavia.
"Leah has been one for he biggest factors for our wins recently," Hasegawa said. "She's grown more mature as a player and is still only a junior. On the court, one of our teams strengths is our trust in each other and when Leah has the ball outside the arc, we have no doubt she can knock down the shot. Her rebounding has been outstanding as well this season our team is very grateful for how she's been playing."
"Leah is in the zone for sure," Meadows said. "She has hit huge shots for us; she rebounds so well for us, and does a really nice job on defense. She is a huge factor in our success."
Guard-wise, Hasegawa and defensive specialist Caroline Madden will be tasked at the top of the key to set the tone. Off the bench, Kinsey Gracey can keep the defensive intensity if one needs a rest or finds foul trouble.
"Kinsey has been amazing for us off the bench," Hasegawa said. "She's been holding her ground greatly on defense especially when she's put on a skill player. Kinsey, herself, can be a shifty player so I feel like that helps her predict her opponents moves on defense."
Samantha Trimberger averages 9.4 points a game for Benet. She's also second to Beaumont with 188 rebounds.
Emilia Sularski averages 9.2 points a game.
Magdalena Sularski, who averages 5.1 points a game, is second to Beaumont with 77 assists.
In the other Class 4A semifinal, Hersey will try to send retiring coach Mary Fendley and assistant Julia Barthel out with a state title.
The Huskies will play O'Fallon, who enters at 32-4 with its only losses to Evansville, Indiana, Alton twice, and Okawville. Since losing to Okawville on Jan. 19, the Panthers have won 12 straight -- including avenging those losses to Alton with a 49-43 win at sectionals, and a 65-48 victory over Bolingbrook at the Illinois Wesleyan supersectional.
Coach Nick Knolhoff, 148-32 in his six seasons, has a squad making its first state appearance. The Panthers are led by Shannon Dowell, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, who averages 21.3 points per game. She will play next year at Illinois State. Jailah Pelly and D'Myjah Bolds are next at 9.1 and 8.3 ppg.
Hersey has its own Division I player, Michigan-bound Katy Eidle. She averages 19.3 ppg while also
Meghan Mrowicki is next for the Huskies at 11.9 ppg. Natalie Alesia averages 10.4 ppg with 164 rebounds, second only to Annika Manthy with 204. Manthy averages 9.4 ppg.