By Marty Farmer
Let the second season begin.
That's the opportunity several area high school girls basketball teams, notably Nazareth, Fenwick, Riverside-Brookfield, Lyons Township and Trinity will embrace as the IHSA state playoffs rev up this week.
Since the NCAA has March Madness, consider the girls hoops upcoming itinerary as a February Frenzy of sorts.
"There is a lot more at stake in the playoffs," LTHS guard Tessa Elliott said. "We have eight seniors on our team so we realize we're done after one loss. We all want to make the playoffs last as long as possible."
While expectations may vary a bit among the teams, all of them enter the postseason with a similar feeling of excitement.
Under the guidance of second-year coach Ed Stritzel, Nazareth's aspirations for a Class 2A state title are warranted. The Roadrunners (25-2, 6-1 East Suburban Catholic) had the best season in program history and are regarded as one of the best teams in the state in any class.
The team is led Stritzel's daughter, Annie, who is averaging 25 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals per game. Center Alyssa Geary (14 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks per game), forward Marissa Metz (8 points, 5 rebounds per game) and guard Jovanna Martinucci (6 points, 6 assists per game) provide additional firepower.
The Roadrunners also should benefit from a favorable St. Joseph Sectional. The top challenger in the sectional is Fenwick (13-16), which has one of the toughest schedules in the state.
Although their record is below .500, the Friars are dangerous with seniors Kate Moore and McKenzie Blaze. Both have scored over 1,000 points at Fenwick. Lily Riordan and Gianni Ortiz provide speed in the backcourt, while Maggie Van Ermen and Margaret Planek are other key contributors.
"I think we have a good shot at making a run because our schedule has been hard," Blaze said. "Every team we've played has been in 4A and now we will be facing 3A teams. I like our chances."
Trinity, Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township are in the 4A playoffs.
The Blazers, seeded fourth in the Maine East Sectional, are led by guard Lauren Lee and center Alex Fanning.
Lee, who has committed to the University of California-Santa Barbara, can do it all on the court. Fanning provides an excellent post presence. Sophomores Zyerra Stafford and Dayjah Chmielewski and freshman Makiyah Williams comprise an excellent supporting cast of players.
Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township are in the loaded Proviso West Sectional.
RBHS (21-7, 9-2 Metro Suburban) had a terrific regular season with essentially a new starting lineup. Freshman Brenna Loftus had a breakout campaign, while Maddie Meehan and Sarah JnoBaptitse also played well.
The Bulldogs developed rapidly with an up-tempo style of play, stingy defense and good team chemistry.
"We have a pretty good chance of succeeding in regional play as long as we give it our all," Loftus said. "We'll have to play fast and give it our all, but I think we have a shot."
Emma Fink, Lily Courier and Elliott lead LTHS, which finished 17-9 during the regular season.