Playoff preview: Breaking down the Fox matchups

While cliché in nature, the old "everybody is 0-0 at the start of the playoffs" is a truthful statement.

A deeper meaning, as South Elgin girls basketball coach Dan Mandernack explained, is don't overlook anybody or uniforms might be turned in the next day.

South Elgin (23-5) is the No. 2 seed in its subsectional and will open Class 4A postseason play against No. 8 Elgin at the Larkin regional Tuesday. The winner gets either No. 3 Jacobs or the No. 5 host Royals. The two winners battle Thursday at Larkin for a trip to the DeKalb sectional.

"We play an improving Elgin team," Mandernack said. "If we win, it's two teams that are playing great right now - both we have won against, but that seems like a lifetime ago and a lot has changed for all teams heading into the playoffs. Once they tip, all teams are 0-0 and the season means next to nothing except for the experience you had and what you learned has prepared you for this moment."

Senior point guard Caroline Croft averages 15.8 points, 6 assists and 3 steals for the Upstate Eight Conference-champion Storm. Senior shooting guard Ella Winterhalder leads the state in charges taken per game (1.9), according to one online statistical service. Both recently went over the 1,000-point barrier for their careers. Winterhalder is the school's all-time 3-point recordholder, boy or girl (203, 75 this season).

"We feel with the grind of the conference season and our very strong non-con games, we are ready for any situation," Mandernack said. "I like our team's focus right now - want to be peaking, unfinished business and not being content is what we are focusing on right now."

Elgin is led by sophomore Jocelyn Bardesi (6.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.9 spg) and junior Izzy Vidallo (5.6 ppg, 3 rpg, 1.6 spg), as well as freshman Izzy Castro (5.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2 spg).

"We will be returning 15 of our 17 players next year, including all five current starters," Elgin coach Nick Bumbales said. "We are looking for continued growth fundamentally. Team chemistry is fabulous and we see potential for exponential growth."

Jacobs has moved to 14-15 overall and was 8-8 in Fox Valley Conference play to start the week. Mackenzie Leahy leads the Golden Eagles at 15 points, 6 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game.

"We are still taking the season one game at a time. We will have a lot of things to improve on before the regional game," coach Jon Reibel said. "We are a junior-senior-heavy team, so we feel good going into the postseason with the experience we have. We are looking to compete and give ourselves the best chance to win each game."

At Rockford Jefferson:

Huntley earned a No. 2 subsectional seed and heads to Rockford Jefferson Monday to face the winner of Saturday's Rockford East (9) at Rockford Jefferson (8) game. Rockford Guilford (3) and Hampshire (7) square off in the other Jefferson semi with the two winners returning Thursday to play for a regional title.

Coach Steve Raethz's Red Raiders were 19-6 to start the week and won the FVC title earlier this week. Huntley's win against Dundee-Crown Wednesday bumped it to an eight-game winning streak and a run of 12 wins in the last 14 games.

Junior Jessie Ozzauto averages 11.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while senior forward Jori Heard is at 9.2 points and leads Huntley in rebounding at 8.3 per game. Junior guard Dammi Campanelli averages 8 points and 3 rebounds, plus a team-high 1.6 steals. She scored 22 points in Huntley's key win against Burlington Central earlier in the week.

"I feel like our team is peaking and playing well here at the right time as we head into the postseason," said Raethz, whose team had a two-week COVID pause in mid-January. "Since coming back, we are playing really well together and competing at a high level. Our goal is to contend for a regional championship."

At Addison Trail:

St. Charles North is the No. 6 seed in the straight-seeded 17-team Bartlett sectional. The North Stars face No. 12 seed and host Addison Trail Tuesday. The winner gets either No. 3 Batavia or No. 14 Glenbard East.

Stars coach Mike Tomczak pointed out the DuKane Conference secured six of the top seven seeds at Addison Trail.

"We feel that seeding is representative of just how competitive our conference is this year," he said. "We hope to be getting a little healthier by next week, but our girls have played tough and made no excuses all season. Next week will be no different. We are so happy the kids are able to compete in the tournament again."

Junior Alyssa Hughes averages 16.5 points per game for North (16-13). She had a career-high 33 points recently against Glenbard North.

"We feel we have the ability to beat anyone on any given night," Tomczak said. "For us, it's a matter of putting together for four quarters. If we can find a way to consistently do that, we can absolutely make a run. This has been a season of adjustments for us, and our girls continue to adapt to new roles."

At Willowbrook:

St. Charles East is the No. 4 seed in the Bartlett sectional and faces No. 13 Glenbard North Monday. The winner either gets the host Warriors (5) or Conant (11) next Thursday for the regional title. Coach Josh Foster's squad had won seven of eight to start the week (17-6 overall). Senior guard Torrie Kortan averages 16.7 points, while sophomore guard Lexi Diorio is at 11.3 points. Senior forward Cali Papez leads the team in rebounding at 9.7 per game, while sophomore guard Alex Maridis is at 5 boards a game and a team-high 4.2 steals. Kortan is at 2.4 steals, while Diorio averages 1.8 steals.

"We are hitting our stride offensively the last five or six games," Foster said. "We have started putting pressure on and dictating the pace of the game to the other team on offense and defense, which is something we have been preaching the second half of the season. I feel really good about where we are as a team and what we can accomplish in the playoffs."

At Geneva:

The host Vikings are the No. 1 Bartlett sectional seed and open play Monday against No. 16 West Chicago. Wheaton Warrenville South (No. 8) takes on Schaumburg (No. 9) after and the two survivors meet Friday at Geneva for the regional title.

At Hoffman Estates:

Bartlett is the No. 15 seed in its own sectional and faces No. 17 Hoffman Estates Saturday at Bartlett. The winner advances to a Monday regional semifinal game against No. 2 Wheaton North.

At Barrington:

Dundee-Crown is the No. 6 seed in its subsectional and takes on No. 4 McHenry Monday at 7:30 p.m. Earlier, No. 7 seed Streamwood battles No. 1 subsectional Barrington. The regional title game is Thursday at Barrington.

At West Aurora:

The Blackhawks host a regional and are the No. 8 seed in the East Aurora sectional. West Aurora faces No. 11 Plainfield South Monday with the winner getting No. 2 Naperville North or No. 15 Metea Valley Friday for the regional title. West beat Plainfield South 74-59 earlier this season.

West Aurora (14-10 and still in contention for the Suburban Prairie West crown at week's beginning) is coming off a big win against Oswego where senior Riley Mont went over the 1,000-career point barrier and now ranks eighth all-time in program history. She averages 15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals, while junior Aspen Weeks averages 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Senior Kayly Jimenez averages 4.5 rebounds.

Class 3A

At Grayslake Central:

Cary-Grove is the No. 6 seed in the Grayslake Central sectional and will face the host Rams (No. 9) in the Central regional Tuesday. The winner gets No. 3 Prairie Ridge or No. 14 Lakes Thursday.

Senior guard-forward Emily Lukowski leads Cary-Grove at 14.2 points per game, while junior forward Annika Nordin averaged 7.2 rebounds. Coach Tony Moretti also is high on the play of Maddie Scharrenberg, who is shooting 48% from the floor on 186 attempts. "She's been super-efficient," he said.

Cary-Grove won 9 of its first 13 games after the new year and sat at 17-9 to start the week. "We are a dangerous team because of our ability to play great defense," Moretti said. "We have a great group of kids that works incredibly hard."

At Deerfield:

Crystal Lake South is the No. 15 seed in the Grayslake Central sectional and hosts No. 18 North Chicago Saturday. The winner gets No. 2 seed Deerfield at the Deerfield regional Monday. Kree Nunnally averages 16.7 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Gators. "We are playing our best basketball of the season and I am hopeful it continues into the playoffs," South coach Mark Mucha said.

At Rochelle:

Kaneland, the No. 5 seed in its subsectional, plays No. 4 Belvidere North Tuesday in the Rochelle regional. Sycamore is the No. 1 seed here and plays either Plano (9) or host Rochelle (6) on Monday.

The Knights, who won five games in a row in late January, are led by senior McKenzie Schueler at 9.4 points per game. Junior Katharine Marshall averages 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game.

"We were playing pretty well the last few weeks prior to our game with Sycamore," Kaneland coach Kelsey Flanagan said. "We are hoping to get back on track with our last few games before the playoffs. We have a really tough regional. Our first-round matchup is against a Belvidere North team playing really well. If we can get past them, we could match up with Sycamore again."

At Rockford Boylan:

Burlington Central earned the No. 2 subsectional seed here and faces No. 8 Belvidere Monday. Boylan (3) and Freeport (7) follow. The winners play Friday for a regional title.

Class 2A

At Somonauk:

St. Edward was dispatched to the Somonauk regional where the Green Wave are the No. 2 subsectional seed in the Class 2A Johnsburg sectional.

St. Edward plays either No. 9 Sandwich or No. 7 Somonauk co-op Monday. Aurora Central Catholic (No. 3 seed) awaits either Mendota (12) or Wheaton Academy (6). The regional title game is slated for next Thursday.

St. Edward finished the regular season 18-11 and won the Metro Suburban Red Division title with an 11-1 mark. The Green Wave won 15 games in a row and did not lose in January.

Senior guard Brooke Biggins averages 19.8 points per game, while senior guard Alexia Alfaro is at 8.8 points. Freshman forward Maggie Jarzemsky averages 7.6 rebounds.

"Our recent success has come from our team playing as one cohesive unit on defense, exposing our opponents' weaknesses," St. Edward coach Michelle Dawson said. "Our defense fuels our offense."

At Woodstock Marian Central:

Rosary (20-11) is the No. 1 seed in its subsectional and opens play Monday against either No. 10 Marian Central or No. 8 Marengo. Johnsburg (No. 4) faces either No. 11 Richmond or No. 5 Genoa after. The winners play for the regional title Thursday.

The Royals closed out the regular season with wins against Kaneland, Plano and Timothy Christian. Senior Emily Hurst averages 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4 steals for Rosary.

"Our goal starting with our game last Thursday against Kaneland was to hit the 20-win mark in the regular season," Rosary coach Emily Duckhorn noted. "We needed to win three straight. Our team took the challenge and ran with it. This is the momentum we needed moving into the playoffs. We hope to make a run and it is absolutely possible with the type of basketball we have been playing. Let's ride."

Class 1A

At Harvest Christian:

No. 9 seed Elgin Academy heads to No. 8 Westminster Christian Saturday to kick off play in the Class 1A Harvest Christian regional. The winner gets host and top-seeded Harvest on Monday. Schaumburg Christian (4) and Mooseheart (7) follow on Tuesday. The regional title game is Friday.

Harvest won the Northeastern Athletic title and was on a six-game winning streak to start the week. Senior guard Abby Semerau averages 8 points per game, while freshman Alyssa Burke has hauled in 97 rebounds (42 offensive). Semerau has 43 steals, while freshman guard Daphne Brown has 33 assists and senior guard Madison Ellett has 32.

Harvest coach Jeremy Burke noted during the six-game streak it beat two of the top teams in the subsectional. "We are playing our best basketball of the season and are striving for a regional title and a deep playoff run," he said. "We are playing very good team defense and sharing the ball well on offense. I can't wait to see what lies in store for us this postseason. The girls worked hard to have the opportunity for that No. 1 seed. Now, we need to show everyone we deserved it. We have a tough battle ahead, but our girls will be ready for it."

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