While winning a state championship is the ultimate prize, several area high school girls basketball teams will have their hands full simply staying alive in the Whitney Young Sectional of the Class 4A playoffs. Welcome to arguably the state’s toughest sectional, a labyrinth of tough games for any team.
Four area teams, Trinity (No. 2 seed), Riverside-Brookfield (No. 4), Lyons Township (No. 6), Fenwick (No. 10) fall within the top 10 seeds of the 21-team field.
Top-seeded Whitney Young is the 4A defending state champion and favorite to survive and advance from its own sectional this season. Other notable teams include Proviso East (24-3), Kenwood, Hinsdale Central, Reavis and Proviso West.
Here’s a closer look at RBHS, LTHS, Fenwick and Trinity, which all begin postseason play this week.
Riverside-Brookfield: Despite losing senior forward Janae Dabney (torn ACL) in the second half of the season, the Bulldogs finished 26-4. Combo guards Samantha Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd along with 6-7 center Dana Rettke lead RBHS at both ends of the floor. All three standouts are sophomores, while senior guard Miranda Chavez (excellent defender/ball handler) and junior forward Jess JnoBaptiste (stretch-four shooter) round out the starting lineup. RBHS benefits from an underrated bench with contributors like Natalia Gheewala, Elexis Walker, Renee Kunkel, Caitie Rusen, Angela Comicho and Rachel Malloy.
Bloom and Hoyd will need to shoot well from the perimeter and Rettke must avoid foul trouble for the Bulldogs to have any shot of an extended stay in the playoffs. All three have really stepped up their games since Dabney’s career-ending injury.
“We’re in a really tough sectional but we’ve been playing good basketball,” RBHS coach Dallas Till said. “Our focus is to play well our in first game against Oak Park. They have a lot of size, speed and athleticism so it will be a tough game. We will need to defend and rebound well to have a chance against Oak Park. They are extremely physical and have a deep bench. It should be an entertaining game for all of the fans in attendance.
“We don’t necessarily have expectations for the postseason at this point. We have a goal to be regional champions but we also know that winning a regional in arguably the toughest sectional in the state is no easy task. Our hope is always to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season. If we do that, we have an opportunity to be successful.”
Lyons Township: Although rival Hinsdale Central is seeded higher, The Lions (19-5) finished ahead to the Red Devils to win the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship. Senior sharpshooter Vicki Swift and fellow guard Gaby Gallassini lead a balanced LTHS attack. Junior guard Nina Scaramella, senior center Hope Miller and senior guards Marisa Kopping, Katie Lively and Megan Hickey are other key contributors.
“We have a nice balance between our guard play and our inside presence,” Krick said. “We can play up-tempo, we can slow it down, and we can go inside or outside. It comes down to conditioning, work ethic and experience.”
Fenwick: Although the Friars are seeded in the middle of the pack, no other area program has the postseason cachet of Fenwick which includes two state championships, four other top-4 finishes and a pair of Elite 8 finishes over the past 15 years. While that track record alone commands respect, Fenwick (13-17) has talent as well this season. Kiki Sheard, Deja Cage, Drenisha Wideman and the Mackowiak sisters, Jessica and Jenny, provide coach Dave Power plenty of offensive firepower.
“We have an unbelievably tough first-round game against Lyons Township at LT,” Power said. “Whichever team wins will get Trinity next with a team like Whitney Young waiting in the wings. It’s a brutal sectional and it always has been. Whoever survives the sectional will be tournament ready for the [next] game to get to the Final 4.”
Trinity: The Blazers (23-4) edged Crete-Monee 45-39 Saturday to close out another splendid regular season under coach Ed Stritzel. Juniors Annie McKenna, Kaitlin Aylward and senior Patricia Stritzel offer plenty of talent and experience for the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference (GCAC) champs. It will be interesting to see how the team’s prized freshman class of Alisa Fallon, Lauren Lee, Daliyah Brown, Alex fanning and Alyssa Geary handle postseason pressure. Trinity, which lost to Whitney Young 60-49 on Jan. 31, could meet the Dolphins again in the sectional final.
OPRF: Injuries have plagued J.P. Coughlin’s team much of the past few seasons. The Huskies enter the playoffs in relatively good health, a refreshing change compared to last year’s playoffs. Division I recruit/senior guard Hailey Hoye, senior guard/forward Victoria Waters and senior forward Emily Schreck are the team’s leaders.
A wave of young talent, including freshman guard Maeve Nelson, sophomore swingman Chardonnay Harris and 6-2 sophomore center Blair Ripley, bodes well for the future of the program.
“The sectional is loaded and has to be the best one in the state,” Coughlin said. “Even though we could face two very good teams in R-B and Kenwood to get out of the regional, I kind of like our matchups.”
Outlook: Fenwick and host LTHS square off tonight at 7:30 in the Lyons Regional, with the winner most likely facing Trinity in Friday’s regional final (7:30 p.m.). RBHS and OPRF will also meet in a regional semifinal at Simeon. Considering these teams will wipe each other out, Trinity appears to be the best of the bunch.
Although RBHS, LTHS, Proviso East, Hinsdale Central and Kenwood are all capapble of deep runs, Whitney Young should face Trinity in yet another huge sectional final. Last year, the Dolphins knocked off the Blazers 58-45 in a sectional championship game en route to the 4A state title.