Wheeling's girls basketball team is back for a third straight time in the Mid-Suburban League championship.
And when the Wildcats (24-4, 8-2) take the floor for the 37th annual MSL title game, they'll bring a big appetite for victory against a Fremd team (20-8, 9-1) that is making its first appearance since 2004.
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"Our eight seniors are hungry and really want to finish their career with a conference championship," said Wildcats coach Shelly Wiegel. "They are ready to do whatever it takes."
It's taken Fremd seniors Taylor Glassmann and Gianna Abruzzo three years playing together to make the title game. They just missed the last two seasons.
Wheeling seniors Janelle Cannon (21.2 ppg, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals), Bianca Szafarowicz (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 steals, 1.8 assists) and Stephanie Kuzmanic (10.4 ppg, 3.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1 steal) have been a part of the last two championship victories.
The three seniors played key roles late in the season when Wheeling pulled out three straight games over Prospect, Hersey and Wheeling with big second-half comebacks.
The Wildcats' losses in the East were to Hersey and Buffalo Grove.
"I think we need to stop them from going on big runs," said Fremd coach Dave Yates, who is in his fourth season. "With any good team like Wheeling, you have to limit their runs. We can't let them go nuts offensively and let them have the 9- to 12-point runs."
Glassmann, a four-year starter, and Abruzzo (6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) both average 11 points while Bridget Kubis chips in 6 ppg. Megan Gray (4 rebounds per game) and Ashley O'Connell (3 assists per game) each contribute 5 points per game.
"We'll need our other kids (besides Glassmann and Abruzzo) to step and score, too," Yates said. "And they have. They've all had double-digit scoring games, as has Jessi Wiedemann."
Wiedemann (6-1 So. G-F), Megan Hubbard (5-9 So. G), Jaimie Groot (5-8 Jr. G) and Tess Dinterman (6-0 Sr. F) have been among key reserves for the Vikings, whose only loss in league play was at Hoffman Estates.
Wheeling will be the fourth No. 1 sectional seed the Vikings face this season. The others were losses to Marian Catholic and New Trier and a win over Fenwick.
"By far, our toughest schedule in my four years," Yates said. "Wheeling is another good team. We want to play good teams because if you're not, it's not going to help you.
"The girls wanted to win the division, win 20 games and win a regional this season. They've already accomplished two of them."
Wheeling is trying to accomplish something that has been done by two MSL teams - win three straight MSL titles. The other two are Buffalo Grove and Fremd (twice).
"In all the games that we have played well, there is one thing in common," said Wiegel, whose club was third in the Class AA state tourney a year ago. "We really committed to defense. In the games we struggled, we were focused on offense."
Wiegel has also been able to get some offense off her bench as Selma Smajlovic (5-7 Sr. G), Leah Malsom (6-0 So. F) and Ellie Grinter (5-5 Jr. G) have been top reserves.
"I think both teams will really go out and battle," Wiegel said of tonight's showdown. "They've obviously had a very good season. I just want to see us play good solid defense. When we do that, the offense has a way of coming out of that. Our senior leadership has been the key to our success all season.
"They have been in these big games before and that is helpful. Bianca and Stephanie have been playing together a long time, since feeder program games."
Fremd seniors Glassmann and Abruzzo have also have been long-time teammates, even before high school.
"We're excited," Wiegel added. "It'd be very nice to win the title again. When we started the season, the girls had two goals. One was winning the conference and the other was to go downstate. We've done a lot of exciting things this season (won two Christmas tourneys and second in a Thanksgiving event) but those were the two main goals."
37th annual Mid-Suburban League championship
Wheeling (24-4, 8-2) at Fremd (20-8, 9-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Wheeling starters: Stephanie Kuzmanic (5-8 Sr. G), Janelle Cannon (5-9 Sr. G), Bianca Szafarowicz (5-11 Sr. G), Kellie Kuzmanic (5-10 So. F), Larissa Aguero (5-8, Sr. F).
Fremd starters: Taylor Glassman (5-8 Sr. G), Gianna Abruzzo (5-8 Sr. F), Megan Gray (6-1 Jr. F), Bridget Kubis (5-7 Jr G), Ashley McConnell (5-9 Fr. G)
Fremd history: The Vikings won the first MSL title game in 1977 over Forest View. They have appeared in 11 title games, the most recent in 2004, and won them all under former coach Carol Plodzien.
Wheeling history: The Wildcats have won the game the last two years (at Schaumburg in overtime and home against Hoffman Estates last year). Those were their only title-game appearances in school history.