Fast-starting Geneva’s most challenging stretch of the season figures to come this week at the East Aurora Christmas Tournament.
The Vikings (11-1) are set to open the tournament Wednesday against Neuqua Valley, and also have pool play dates with defending 3A state champion Peoria on Thursday and Aurora Central Catholic on Friday.
Geneva coach Phil Ralston said the program entered the East Aurora tournament hoping to encounter challenging opposition, and the Vikings will certainly get their wish this year.
The tournament should give Geneva a realistic assessment of how it stacks up against high-end competition.
“Obviously it’s nice to be where we’re at, but the minute you start believing the hype, that’s when you start losing your focus, and that’s when you don’t continue to improve,” Ralston said after Friday’s 51-40 win at St. Charles North. “All we can do is worry about our next game.”
Geneva’s start has been all the more impressive considering senior center Connor Chapman is the team’s lone returning starter. Several of the team’s key players – including leading scorer Nate Navigato, a sophomore, and juniors Chris Parrilli and Cam Cook – were not even on the varsity last season.
“Those kids that graduated last year are the ones that kind of instilled this mindset in our kids, and I have to give them a tremendous amount of credit, and then you look at the group of kids with the talent we had coming in this year, and they’ve been a real good mix,” Ralston said.
Navigato considered Friday’s win against North a validation of the team’s strong start.
“I don’t know if a lot of people thought we had proven ourselves yet but I think [against North] we proved that we’re one of the top teams, and we’re working hard,” Navigato said.
Bright spot for North
North didn’t have a lot to feel good about after Friday’s clunker, but coach Tom Poulin did like the effort of senior forward Justin Stanko.
Battling a formidable Geneva frontcourt, the 6-foot-6 Stanko contributed nine points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. A Loyola-bound soccer recruit, Stanko is in his first season playing major minutes for the basketball team.
Poulin called Stanko “a ballplayer.”
“He’s come in since day one and worked really hard and had a really good attitude, and been a leader,” Poulin said. “He just wants to win. That’s the only thing important to him.
“He just wants to get a ‘W’ so he gives everything he has. We’re proud of Justin and what he gave us tonight.”
Cadets glad to be on schedule
It’s only the first full season Marmion has had access to its fieldhouse to streamline practice times, so coach Ryan Paradise is not taking for granted the ability to make it home at a normal dinner time most nights.
The school’s fieldhouse, which opened in January – more than halfway through last season – enables the varsity team to practice right after school in the Cadets’ main gymnasium, while the freshman and sophomore teams can practice at the same time in the fieldhouse.
The Cadets would often have to practice later in the evening in past years.
“I can actually have dinner, and the kids can eat, because before if they don’t live very close, they’ve got to stick around, maybe run up to McDonald’s or something,” Paradise said. “It was tough to do their homework, tough to get a good meal, so this is nice.”
IN THE GROOVE
Micah Coffey, Batavia, Junior, Guard
What he did: Coffey lit up Streamwood on Friday night, erupting for a game-high 26 points as the Bulldogs defeated the Sabres to snap a six-game losing streak.
Geneva coach Phil Ralston's defensive scheming. What he did: Ralston's 1-3 chase defense, designed to frustrate an opponent's top player, seems to pay off in a major way most of the time the Vikings employ it, and that was the case again on Friday, when chaser Chris Parrilli limited St. Charles North senior Quinten Payne to three shot attempts and six points in Geneva's 51-40 win.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK How remarkable it is that Streamwood beat Larkin to open the UEC River schedule.
The Sabres looked woeful in recent losses to Geneva and Batavia (which had lost six straight), but conference contenders such as the Vikings and St. Charles East remain thankful that Streamwood saddled Larkin with its lone conference loss to date a few weeks back.
UEC River leaders Geneva, East and Larkin each have one loss in conference play heading toward the 2013 portion of the schedule.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD Whether St. Charles East (at Proviso West) or St. Charles North (at Pontiac) can have a degree of success at some of the state's toughest Christmas tournaments.
East opens play at Proviso on Wednesday against Von Steuben, while North tips off Thursday in Pontiac against Waukegan, a team that nipped the North Stars by one point at a shootout earlier this season.
COACH SLY SAYS One of the best weeks of high school sports all year is the very last week of 2012. What a slate of holiday tournament action this week!
Sly's curious to see if Batavia can build off the Streamwood win at the Elgin tournament and get on a little roll, and it'll be interesting to see how Geneva handles a very tough pool at East Aurora.
It goes without saying the St. Charles schools will have their hands full this week at the big boy tourneys.
Kaneland should be competitive and has a chance to build some confidence against some of the smaller schools they'll see at Plano.
There are chances for big-time wins this week. Can't wait to see if area teams can reel them in and end 2012 with a bang.