Madden, Geneva stifle Conant in regional final
Caroline Madden doesn't ask for any other task.
For the Geneva junior, locking down any top offensive player in front of her is her forté.
Holding Conant standout guard Aria Mazza to 11 points - on 4 of 17 shooting from the field - during the Vikings' 55-29 Class 4A regional title victory over host Conant on Friday is Exhibit A pointing to her excellence at the front of Geneva's zone defense.
"That is exactly what she wants," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "She goes after it and does it every possession. She's a really big part of our team."
"I definitely enjoy [the assignment]" Madden said amid the on-court celebration. "It's always a challenge, but I think defense is one of my strengths and I think that's where I shine. I like to be able to play that role and take away their best player. I enjoy that."
Geneva's defense starts at the top with Madden. With Cassidy Arni, Lauren Slagle and Leah Palmer anchoring the back end, the Vikings can work seemingly like magic. Conant began making one field goal in the first quarter and finished the first half 5 of 24 with eight turnovers.
During the final minute of the first half, the Vikings rotated and held Conant without a clear shot to take the 26-14 lead. Madden was at the spearpoint of that.
"She's a stud," Arni said of Madden. "I think her soccer helps her. I can never have the nerve she does. I wish I did. She doesn't stop. It's nice to have her."
Arni, who had two fouls in the first half, cooked in the third quarter with eight points, four rebounds and a monster chase-down block on Cougars guard Asha Cobb in transition to hammer home her significance in Geneva's state title chase. Arni swished a 3-pointer with under four seconds remaining in the frame, which helped the Vikings take a 20-point lead into the final quarter.
Arni, who has won a regional title in every varsity season excluding the 2020 season that had no postseason, finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
"These are big and it's really cool to do what we can to get the program big wins," Arni said. "Geneva has a pretty good reputation [for winning] for awhile, so it means a lot to help that keep growing. Hopefully, in the future, we can keep doing that, too."
"She does what she does," Meadows said of Arni. "I feel like she's turning it up right now. It's just fun to watch. I love our ball movement in the second half. We got a little bit away from it in the first half, but I just love this group of kids. They're great. They work hard, like each other and it's fun."
Slagle, Arni's counterpart, shined for 10 points, 10 rebounds and two assists. Slagle battled for nine of those rebounds in the first half. Rilee Hasegawa had nine points and three rebounds.
The Vikings (27-3) rolled through their DuKane Conference slate undefeated, held Bartlett to 25 points in the regional semifinal and now hold their 11th total regional title under Meadows. Their next test awaits in conference foe Lake Park in the Glenbard West-hosted sectional semifinal Tuesday.
Conant (11-16), which was vying for its first regional title since 2015, was paced by Mazza's 11. Kristina Tierney had seven points and five rebounds and Lauren Fricke had three points.
"I thought we got some open looks early on and just didn't knock them down," Cougars coach Todd Strauch said. "When you don't knock down shots against a team like that, you get in trouble early. So, it was like 11-0, we got our first couple baskets and kind of get into a flow. Then, get into halftime, it was pretty even, [but] same thing started to happen in the second half. That's why [Geneva] is good: They're able to pressure you, they're long, they're athletic, they take away angles [and] they do a really nice job."
Geneva's march to winning a state title, which it achieved in consecutive seasons in 2017 and 2018, appears well on its way.
"We're trying to do something that hasn't been accomplished in awhile," Slagle said. "I think that this team, with the dedication we have [and] the veterans we have since last year ... I think we're trying to accomplish something bigger. I think we have the talent to do so. We just have to have that mindset going one game at a time and play like it's our last game."