Survive and advance.
That’s the requisite mentality any girls basketball team adopts this time of the year.
The Riverside-Brookfield, Lyons Township, Fenwick, Trinity and Oak Park and River Forest high school girls basketball teams certainly will be focused on taking it one game at a time during hopefully extended stays in the postseason.
Here’s a closer look at the Bulldogs, Lions, Friars and Blazers entering the state playoffs which begin this week.
With the loss of eight seniors and 6-foot-8 junior center Dana Rettke (who left the team to focus on volleyball), the Bulldogs entered this season with several question marks.
But head coach Dallas Till and his top assistant, Mark Ruge, reinforced the value of teamwork, and the new-look Bulldogs pulled together this winter to produce another fine campaign.
“I believe our rebounding and defense have improved dramatically,” Till said. “We always have a better chance of winning when we play unselfishly.
Junior guards Sam Bloom and Lyndsey Hoyd have anchored the Bulldogs as third-year varsity starters and Jess JnoBaptiste has also contributed at both ends of the floor.
While those three were expected to lead RBHS, a pleasant surprise has been the collective development of role players like Allie Kucera, Coco Murray, Brenda Ulloa, Lexi Walker, Taylor Jensen and Therese Hanley.
“This year we have a completetly new team so it was a bit of rough transformation (early in the season),” Hoyd said. “We’ve adapted to the new players, though, and the new style we’ve had to play. I think this group works extremely hard which has helped us be successful.”
Post players Maddie Meehan and Maggie Shereck have helped compensate for the loss of Rettke with great activity in the paint.
“Whether it’s scoring, rebounding or defending, every player has a role on this team,” Meehan said. “My role is to go into the game as needed and provide a lot of rebounding, defense and an inside presence.
“It’s not just about one or two key players for us. Everybody has to play well and contribute for us to be successful.”
RBHS is seeded 14th in the Lyons Township Sectional. The top five seeds, in order, are Proviso East, Whitney Young, Simeon, Kenwood and Downers Grove North. LTHS is seeded sixth.
The Bulldogs cruised past Curie 66-20 in the quarterfinals of the Downers Grove South Regional. Bloom scored a game-high 26 points.
RBHS (20-10) faced Simeon in the regional semifinals on Tuesday (past deadline).
The Lions (18-7) claimed their second straight West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship under coach Paul Krick.
Nina Scaramella, Frannie Corrigan, Emily Pender and Sidney Bugaieski headline a deep, versatile lineup. Although Corrigan, Pender and Kaelan Lee missed parts of the season due with assorted injuries, LTHS stayed atop the conference with solid bench play.
“I knew if the girls bought into the concept of team basketball, we would put ourselves in a position to repeat [as conference champions],” Krick said. “They were able to get it done. It’s a credit to our girls that they have overcome adversity. We had a lot of injuries but our bench players stepped up and filled in really well.”
Seeded sixth in their own sectional, the Lions take on Downers Grove South Regional on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. With a win, LTHS moves on to the regional final Friday at 7 p.m.
“I don’t think people know what to expect from us but we have saved our best for last,” Pender said. “We are motivated to prove to everyone how strong we are together.”
It was an interesting regular season to say the least for the Friars.
Dave Power became just the second girls basketball coach (joining Marshall’s Dorothy Gaters) in Illinois history to reach the 900-win plateau when the Friars defeated DePaul Prep on Jan. 23.
“For a while it looked like it might take another 39 years,” Power joked after the game. “No, it was very nice. I was proud of the girls. They played with a lot of heart. At times they were trying too hard because they wanted it so bad.”
Kiki Sheard, Kate Moore and MacKenzie Blaze are top threats offensively.
Center Charlotte Quinn, forwards Margaret Planek and Kelly Carpenter and a plethora of guards including Bailey Forde, Chance Baggett, Gianni Ortiz, Mackenzie Berschel and Audrey Hetzer have seen plenty of playing time as well.
The Friars go deep into their bench to maintain defensive intensity.
Although an extremely difficult schedule, key injuries and an underclassmen-laden roster have caused some growing pains, the Friars enter the 3A playoffs as a dangerous floater with a favorable seed.
“You may not think it would be a fun year for us based on our record, but we all love each other,” Moore said. “There’s not a lot of drama. We’re having fun.”
Fenwick (8-20) is the No. 4 seed in the Glenbard South Sectional. Marshall, the sectional host Raiders and North Lawndale are the top three seeds.
Fenwick faces the winner of Pritzker vs. Rauner on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. in the semifinals of the Immaculate Conception Regional. The regional final is Friday at 7 p.m.
Of the area teams, the Blazers are the best candidate to win a state title.
Trinity was three wins shy of winning the Class 4A state championship last season, With essentially their roster intact, the Blazers are to finish the job this year.
Led by seniors Annie McKenna and Kaitlyn Aylward, Trinity has the talent, experience and depth to beat any team in the state.
“I can’t believe it’s my last year,” said McKenna, who recently signed to play college basketball at Dartmouth. “It’s been fun. I still have that goal of a state championship and that will never change.”
McKenna is one of the top point guards in the state, while Aylward is an outstanding scorer and rebounder. The Blazers’ talent extends beyond their stellar seniors, with key contributors Alisa Fallon, Lauren Lee, Daliyah Brown, Alex Fanning and Alyssa Geary in the fold as well.
Annie Stritzel, one of the best freshmen in the state, has made the lineup even more formidable.
After a tumultuous start this season, which included Mike Valente taking over as the head coach after Ed Stritzel resigned on Nov. 30, Trinity turned in another strong regular season.
Highlights included defeating Montini 51-40 to win the GCAC Red championship game and a runner-up finish at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Arizona.
While a faster tempo suits the Blazers’ style of play, they have proven they can win in a variety of ways.
“We move the ball pretty well and play good defense,” Brown said. “We like to play at a fast speed and pressure our opponents. I think we have improved as the season has gone on.”
Trinity (24-3), the No. 3 seed in the New Trier Sectional of the Class 4A playoffs, played the winner of Glenbrook North vs. Schurz on Tuesday, Feb. 16 (past deadline) in the semifinals of the Maine South Regional. With a win, the Blazers advance to Thursday’s regional title game at 7 p.m.
Other top sectional teams include No. 1 New Trier, No. 2 Evanston, No. 4 Glenbrook South and No. 5 Loyola Academy.
Regardless of how the Huskies fare in the state playoffs, they have already shown their mettle this winter. After three key players opted to leave the team during the offseason and a 0-5 start, OPRF (14-13, 9-3) stormed back to earn a share of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship with Lyons Township.
The Huskies have plenty of offensive firepower with scorers like junior forward Blair Ripley, senior guard Madison Siler and senior forward Crystal Corr, but defense has been their calling card all season.
Guards Molly Cullinane and Maeve Nelson set the tone with constant pressure on the ball. Nelson is particularly adept at jumping passing lanes for steals.
“It’s fun that we all work together,” Cullinane said. “Last year we had more stars but this year we’re all pretty good, so practice is really good. We all get a lot done because we all push each other.”
An infusion of additional young talent, including sophomore forwards Amaya Coleman and Carrington McGowan and freshman guard Ahsha Spencer has the Huskies set up well for the next several seasons.
Seniors Peyton Schafer and Michaela Thornton have also contributed to the team’s success.
“I’m really proud of what we have accomplished,” Ripley said. “Despite having a young team, we really get to work and hard work pays off.”
The Huskies face Niles North on Wednesday, Feb. 17 in the semifinals of the Prosser Regional. With a win, OPRF would most likely take on top sectional seed New Trier in Friday’s regional title game at 7 p.m.