Red-hot Whitley shoots Geneva past Wheaton Warrenville South
Margaret Whitley started her night Thursday at the Class 4A Lake Park sectional by sinking 10 of her 15 shots in the 3-point contest, qualifying her for state.
She then went out and made nearly as many against Wheaton Warrenville South, and as a result the defending state champion Vikings are one win away from their third trip to Normal in five years.
Whitley matched a career-high with eight 3-point baskets, accounting for all of her game-high 24 points in Geneva's 48-31 victory. It's Geneva's fourth sectional championship in the last five years and seventh in the last 10.
“It's so exciting,” said Whitley, a four-year starter headed to the University of Alabama-Birmingham. “Thinking about what we did last year motivates you to do it again, how much fun it was. I think that tonight was sitting in the back of my head not to take a team lightly and you have to come out like it's your last game. That's the way we've been playing and will try to continue playing.”
Geneva (28-3) needed Whitley's hot hand to pull away from the deliberate Tigers (27-4). Whitley's first 3 broke a 2-2 tie with a minute left in the first quarter, leaving the Vikings up 5-2 going to the second quarter in the low-scoring affair.
“It definitely felt weird,” Whitley said of the opening quarter. “I think we knew how we needed to play our offense based on their defense and my teammates did a phenomenal job getting me the ball. Without them I wouldn't have got those shots. Everyone showed up tonight and is excited to continue playing the way we have been playing.”
Still slogging through a 12-6 game midway through the second quarter, Whitley heated up to help Geneva pull away. She drained three straight from beyond the arc, then threw a pinpoint pass to Maddy Yelle down low as Geneva pushed its lead to 23-9 at halftime.
“I thought our shooters would do a nice job against that 1-2-2 zone tonight,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. “Marge is a gamer. She's a great shooter. Everyone in the gym knows that. And when they take Marge away Steph steps up and hits one. We play good team ball together.”
After Hart opened the second half with a 3-pointer, Whitley again got going, hitting three more 3s in the third quarter.
Her final 3-point shot came on an assist from fellow four-year starter Hart to put Geneva up 45-20 midway through the fourth.
“I just felt good tonight,” Whitley said. “I shot well in the 3-point competition. That ended up in my head and ended up being a positive. It's just confidence.”
Seeing Whitley catch fire from behind the 3-point arc is nothing new for her teammates. Earlier this season Whitley drained 8 of 9 in a win over Yorkville; on Thursday, she sank 8 of 13.
Against the Tigers zone, Madison Mallory took an entry pass at the high post and kicked out to Whitley for a couple of those 3s.
“She lets me know when she's ready for the ball and I just got it to her today,” Mallory said. “She just was knocking down the shots. It was really nice for us to get that.
“She works so hard and she deserves all that she gets and we know she can shoot from wherever. Other teams probably should too.”
That was a frustration for Wheaton Warrenville South coach Rob Kroehnke who took three timeouts after the Tigers gave Whitley a little too much space to get her shot off.
If those Tiger players could see what Geneva does in practice, they would know there's never a spot too far away to guard the lefty with limitless range.
“It can be the volleyball line,” Yelle said of Whitley's range. “It is so far.
“It's amazing. We know Margaret is a great shooter and she definitely stepped up today because we knew weren't going to get as many reps on offense and we knew we couldn't drive as much so every guard had to be ready to shoot it. And Margaret was ready today.”
Coming into the season with the pressure of being the defending state champions, Geneva is now just three wins away from doing just that. Undefeated Rockford Boylan, the No. 2 team in the state, is next.
“Our kids just own that target now and they are excited,” Meadows said. “We are right in the position we want to be.”
You can reach John Lemon at email@example.com.