Marengo girls basketball coach Nick Rode let his players enjoy Thursday’s Class 3A Marengo Regional championship against Burlington Central with a day off Friday.
The fifth-seeded Indians – who had not defeated the Rockets in six years before a thrilling, 46-44, overtime win – were back to work Saturday and Sunday, studying and preparing for their next opponent, Sycamore.
“That was the most exciting part,” Rode said Sunday after the Indians concluded practice with a meal at Cafe 20 in Marengo. “Not only do we get a Sunday practice, but a morning practice, too. You don’t get too many of those this time of year.”
Marengo’s upset win over No. 1 Burlington Central puts the Indians into the sectional round for the first time since 2005. Marengo, which won only 11 games last season, faces another tough challenge Tuesday in the Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Sectional semifinals.
The Indians (22-8) play second-seeded Sycamore (26-4) about 7:30 p.m. The winner will play No. 1 Glenbard South or No. 3 Rockford Lutheran for the sectional championship at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“Last year, we’re an 11-win team, Rode said. “This year, we’ve already won 22 games and a regional championship against a team we haven’t beaten in a long time. It almost seems storybookish to me.”
Marengo is hoping to add to the story and win a sectional for the first time in 20 years. The Indians had a program-record 28 wins in 1998, advancing to the Class A state tournament.
The Indians have four or five scoring threats on the floor at all times, led by junior guard Marissa Knobloch, who averages 16.6 points a game with 71 3-pointers. Sophomore Jordan Parker averages 8.4 points, followed by freshman Jennifer Heinberg (7.3 points, 43 3s) and junior Hannah Ritter (6.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists).
By getting past a roadblock in Burlington Central, which drubbed the Indians, 55-26, on Jan. 19, Rode believes his team has taken an important step.
“I really feel like this team’s spirit just keeps getting stronger and stronger,” Rode said. “I’ve been on teams before where you have to beg them to finish the season. Just please. Make it to the finish line. These girls seem to be gaining so much momentum and belief in themselves. The girls are starting to recognize that they can win the big games and they can beat good teams. Why not us?”
Marengo’s defense will have to contend with Spartans sophomore Kylie Feuerbach, who has averaged 31 points a game over her past three. The 6-footer had 28 points in a 3A Sycamore Regional final win over Kaneland, 25 in the semifinals against Sandwich and recorded 39 of Sycamore’s 56 points in a win over Morris to clinch the Northern Illinois Big 12 East outright.
Rode also pointed out senior Kate Majerus, a dangerous outside shooter, that forms a 1-2 scoring combination that the Indians haven’t encountered all that much during the season.
“Feuerbach is probably one of the top guards in a large area, not just our area,” Rode said. “We watched her on film, and she’s usually the fastest kid on the court. She jumps the highest out of anybody. She can go right, she can go left, she hits 3s. She has the best first step on the court.”
Rode said the Indians will have to adjust to the Spartans’ defensive pressure, something they excelled at against Burlington.
“When they’re on defense, they do different things where they play with high hands and try to get a lot of deflections,” Rode said. “I’ve seen them play multiple styles. We’re certainly going to have to find a way to handle their pressure, get passes off, gets shots off, get into driving lanes, despite their athleticism and length.”
Rode believes Marengo’s confidence is at an all-time high, and the Indians, who had to get past two higher seeds in the regional round to get to this point of the season, are up to the challenge.
“Some girls are gaining more comfort in taking shots, and they know their teammates want them to step up and hit that open shot,” Rode said. “Our trust in teammates is growing. And I think our shot selection keeps getting better and better.”
Class 4A Dundee-Crown Sectional
Top-seeded McHenry and third-seeded Cary-Grove also will be in action Tuesday as they battle No. 2 Hononegah (26-4) and No. 1 Rockford Boylan (30-0), respectively. The Warriors play at 6 p.m. in the first 4A Dundee-Crown Sectional semifinal, and C-G follows at 7:30 p.m.
McHenry (28-2) has enjoyed its best season in school history with a program record in wins and the team’s first Fox Valley Conference championship since the conference formed 40 years ago.
The Warriors beat Crystal Lake Central, 51-48, in the Prairie Ridge Regional final to clinch their first regional championship since 2004. In the semifinals, they outlasted No. 9 Streamwood, 56-53.
McHenry coach Rob Niemic believes those close games ultimately will be a good thing for the Warriors. McHenry didn’t lose a game in December, outscoring its opponents by an average score of 65-40, and went 10-1 over its final 11 games during the regular season.
A lot of the time, Warriors starters and regulars did not play in the fourth quarter.
“Playing in those games, with that atmosphere and that pressure, I really think that it’s going to make things easier for us,” Niemic said of his team’s close regional finishes. “We had our best practice in two weeks yesterday. We told them that was good. It needs to be better [Monday], and we need to be great on Tuesday.”
The Warriors are led by 2017 Northwest Herald Player of the Year Aannah Interrante (Bradley) with 18.2 points a game and 62 3s and forward Liz Alsot with 16.6 points and 12.2 rebounds a game.
Interrante now has 1,699 career points and three regional titles after winning two at Johnsburg the past two years. Alsot, who is going to Division II Indianapolis, has 1,286 points and 1,085 rebounds in her career.
Sophomore point guard Ava Interrante is averaging 9.5 points and 4.3 assists a game. Junior guard Izzy Gscheidle is averaging 8.8 points with 38 3s and a team-leading 46 blocks.
Niemic said that Hononegah and McHenry play similar styles, with both offenses capable of going on game-changing runs. Niemic called Jordan King one of the best juniors in the state.
Some of McHenry’s players are familiar with a few of the Indians players from their time on AAU Midwest Elite in Deerfield. Hononegah coach Randy Weibel also coaches for the travel program.
“They have scorers, but I feel like we do, too,” Niemic said. “Our shooting percentage was below average in regionals, and I don’t feel like that will be the case in sectionals. We’re the underdog because we’ve never been here before, but we’re gonna have to act like it. We’re not just happy to be here.
“Hononegah has some really good players, and they’ve got one of the best coaches in the state, someone I highly respect. At the same time, we’re excited for the challenge. They have a history and a storied program. We’re just trying to start ours.”
In the second semifinal, Cary-Grove will have a tall task against undefeated Boylan, which is 61-2 over the past two seasons and is ranked No. 2 in the state by the Associated Press polls.
The Trojans (19-10) won their first regional title in five years Thursday with a 33-32 victory against Dundee-Crown in the 4A South Elgin Regional. It was C-G’s 19th regional title overall.
Coach Rod Saffert believes the Trojans are in for a physical game against the Titans like they were against Dundee-Crown. Boylan was a victory away from advancing to state last season.
“I’m impressed with what [D-C coach Sarah] Miller has done over there,” Saffert said. “ It was a very physical game, and we were very proud of the fact that we hung in there. We were tough, and we didn’t back down. [We’re] hoping to carry over that physicality and mindset over to the game [against Boylan].”
Saffert said he is impressed with Boylan senior guard McKenzie Brown, who scored 15 points in a 50-36 win over Harlem in the 4A Hampshire Regional championship. Boylan defeated Huntley, 43-20, in the semifinals, holding the Red Raiders scoreless the entire second half.
“Anytime somebody looks fast on film, that means she’s pretty dang fast in real life,” Saffert said of Brown. “Watching the second half of their game against Huntley, they just took their whole game, especially the defensive side, to a whole different level. Really made Huntley play at a pace that is tough to match.”
To prepare for the Titans’ high pace of play and defensive pressure, Saffert brought in C-G’s boys freshman team to compete against the Trojans in practice. C-G only has nine varsity players, and Saffert has had to insert himself into practices as the 10th player throughout the regular season.
“We had them try and simulate the speed of [Boylan’s] presses and defensive stuff just to get my girls to understand we can’t afford to play at that pace,” Saffert said. “We have to stay as calm as possible and dictate that ourselves.”
Katie Sowa, who is the program’s third leading scorer, is the Trojans’ top scorer with 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game and 46 3s. Junior Maddie Jannusch is averaging 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, followed by senior Abby Getka (6.2 points) and junior Bailey Steinkamp (5.1 points).
The Trojans know they are in for a tough challenge, but Saffert said his players are ready.
“We’re not going there to just play,” Saffert said, who has coached C-G to six regional titles in 12 years. “We’re going to give it our best shot, just like Dundee-Crown did last year against them (a 47-37 win for Boylan).”