Girls Basketball: 2011-12 a banner year in Naperville areaNajee Smith (14) of Neuqua Valley goes up to shoot as Megan Geldernick of Metea Valley defends. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
In successive rounds of the recent Neuqua Valley sectional, the host Wildcats and Benet lost to defending state champion Bolingbook, which ended the girls high school basketball season in the Naperville area.
However, the success achieved by the six local teams was remarkable by any measurement, as every team finished at .500 or better.
Benet, Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley put up 20-win seasons, while Naperville Central finished with 19 wins. The Warriors and Redhawks were also co-champions of their respective conferences.
The relatively new Metea Valley Mustangs got better as the season went on and the Naperville North Huskies were competitive and achieved success that has been absent in recent years.
Good shooting and defense
Benet, which operated at a height disadvantage against most opponents, finished at 25-7 in a season that included an 18-game winning streak and was built on solid defense, consistent outside shooting and admirable teamwork.
“The girls will always remember that 18-game streak,” said Benet coach Peter Paul. “That’s not an easy thing to do. This team never quit. They worked as hard as any team could. And they worked together.”
The core of the Redwings was two pairs of sisters, Sidney and Christen Prasse and twins Nicole and Taylor Valentine.
Sidney Prasse was one of the best long-range shooters in the area, and Christen, a junior, developed into a top-flight point guard. Nicole Valentine was the defensive stopper and battled hard on the boards and Taylor Valentine also played tenacious defense and always seemed to come up with big plays in the clutch.
“Nicole Valentine was as tough an individual as we’ve ever had in the program,” said Paul. “She had 14 rebounds in one game and afterward she told me ‘if I were 6-feet tall I’d get them all.’”
Next year’s team will be built around Christen Prasse and a talented group of reserves, who gained valuable experience.
Experience pays off
Waubonsie Valley’s veteran team, which played as a unit for several years, went 25-3, and fell to Benet in the sectional semifinals.
The Warriors’ successful season was also built on teamwork and incredible scoring balance as every starter averaged between 8.7 and 9.7 points per game.
There was no star on this team and yet they were all stars. Guards Tami Morice and Becky Williford both reached the 1,000 career point mark. Inside players Tia Brooks and Rachael Ross both grabbed more than seven boards a game. Erica Jordan was the stopper on defense, and put up impressive numbers in all offensive categories.
“Each one of the girls was an important part of the team,” said coach Kim Connell. “We had no big stats person but our overall chemistry was great. We shared the ball. We lost twice to Benet and once to Bartlett, one of the best teams in the state, and there’s no shame in any of those losses.”
Brooks will be the key returnee next year and she’ll be joined in the starting lineup by three freshmen and a sophomore who came off the bench for significant minutes this year.
Seniors lead the way
Neuqua Valley was one of the youngest teams in the state, but the Wildcats were led by a pair of inspirational seniors, Megan Doody and Amber Smith. Both of them were capable of stepping up with a big play or a big run when a game was on the line.
“Megan and Amber set the bar for us this year,” said coach Mike Williams. “Now the other kids are talking about winning the sectional next year.”
The Wildcats, who finished at 24-7 and won their first regional since 2006, had a tall, skilled group of underclassmen who got more comfortable and poised as the season went on.
Neuqua has and will have the depth to run Williams’ pressing defense and transition offense and will be better for the experience it gained this year.
Twins Malia and Najee Smith and forward Allison Hedrick are among a group of athletic returnees who will make things interesting at Neuqua Valley next year. Add Kristen Moore, Niki Lazar, Bryce Menendez and a half dozen others who can play and you can see why Williams is ready to start next season now if he could.
“Everybody will be older and wiser,” Williams said. “We have a shot to make some noise the next few years.”
Familiar spot at top
Naperville Central shared the DuPage Valley Conference title for the fourth year in a row. In December, the Redhawks, who finished 19-9, were beaten badly at Wheaton Warrenville South, and that would be their only DVC loss.
“Anyone who saw that game on Dec. 13 wouldn’t have believed that we could go on and win 11 straight conference games after that,” said Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum. “We rarely blew anyone out, but we always knew what we had to do to win.”
From this year’s team Nussbaum loses 6-foot-3 center Emma Donahue, one of only two players in Redhawks’ history (the other is Erica Carter) who started for four conference champions. Donahue was the person other teams set their defenses against and she often faced double and triple-teams inside.
Guard Jill D’Amico, who was adept at getting the ball inside to Donahue and also at guarding the other team’s main outside scoring threat, will also be missed.
Starters Victoria Trowbridge, a strong rebounder who developed into a second scoring option; Jamie Cuny; and deadly outside shooter Shannon Ryan, who will take over at the point; and sixth man Lauren Dierking will make the Redhawks a contender for a fifth straight title.
As good as the year was for the Redhawks, they were disappointed to lose to upstart Metea Valley in the regional semifinals.
But it wasn’t that much of an upset because the Mustangs (16-6) were playing major league ball by going 10-4 in the latter part of the season.
Outstanding starters Lori Obendorf, Bria Walker, Megan Geldernick and Anna Petersen will all be back for another year as the Mustangs go after Neuqua and Waubonsie for the Upstate Eight Conference title. The only starter who graduates is versatile forward Amira Turner.
“We overcame a slow start,” said coach Kris Kalivas. “When we finally got all our players together after softball and soccer conflicts, they really started to click. They should keep getting better. If the girls work in the offseason we can pick up where we left off. We have high expectations.”
Huskies set to move up
And, finally — Naperville North is back.
The Huskies, who have been down in recent years, showed many signs that the program is headed in the right direction. The team finished at 14-14, which is better than it’s been in a long time, and the players are there to continue the improvement.
True, there were some highs and lows. The Huskies were great in their Christmas tournament before falling to Benet in the finals. That was followed by a tough spell in January and a strong finish to the season.
“After that six-game losing streak, we pulled it together,” said coach Jacquie Discipio. “We came a long way this season, and now the girls expect to win. They were disappointed in the losses and they showed they will fight to win.”
While the starting lineup will lose the top scorer Shannon Bushman, who reached the 1,000 career point mark, inside presence Kathleen Hahne and the hustling Britney Wiezeorick, there is plenty coming back to justify the coach’s optimism.
Kayla Sharples had an outstanding freshman year and Zoe Swift’s return just after the season started gave the Huskies’ offense a whole new gear. Delaney White and Morganne Freeman were virtually starters and should step up next year.
“We’ve learned our lessons and now it’s time to step up to the next level,” said Discipio.