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Geneva girls basketball more judicious with press

Geneva’s Sami Pawlak grabs the ball out of the hands of Batavia’s Liza Fruendt during a game last month.
Geneva’s Sami Pawlak grabs the ball out of the hands of Batavia’s Liza Fruendt during a game last month.

Injuries and post-heavy personnel prompted a shift in the Geneva girls basketball team’s defensive approach this season.

Instead of using their traditional 1-2-2 full-court diamond press, the Vikings aim to create more half-court havoc.

Wheaton Warrenville South ended Geneva’s season in the sectional semifinals last winter by consistently beating the press, then won in December against a Geneva group in transition. Tonight, the Vikings and Tigers will renew their rivalry in an IHSA Class 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinal. For as much as Geneva has changed in the past year, it still relies on the same key principle.

“Having the mentality that my kid’s not going to catch the ball, and if my kid does catch the ball, she’s not going to score,” Vikings coach Sarah Meadows said.

Geneva (19-10) progressively scaled back its pressure after speedy junior guard Michaela Loebel suffered a season-ending ACL tear in November.

Classmate Sidney Santos, initially slotted as a center, embraced and adjusted to full-time ball-handling duties. Fellow 6-footer Abby Novak began guarding the other team’s point guard when the Vikings defended opponents man-to-man.

Of late, that’s been a sound alignment for Geneva. With the Vikings playing a 1-2-2 zone to begin last week’s 4A St. Charles East Regional final, the host Saints jumped to an early double-digit lead behind solid shooting.

Meadows called for man-to-man to start the second half, and the Vikings soon found themselves running to a rout, outscoring East, 35-10, after the break while limiting the Saints to 3 for 25 shooting.

“If we play defense like we did on Thursday, that’s a big factor for us coming in [today],” Meadows said. “We’ve got to play solid defense and win the game there.”

Some aspects of Wheaton Warrenville South’s attack ought to mirror Geneva practices. The Tigers (27-3) often run a wheel offense, which has helped the Vikings throughout the season, including during their current seven-game winning streak.

The Tigers, winners of 13 in a row, still differentiate themselves with the presence of Division I-bound players Diamond Thompson (Notre Dame) and Meghan Waldron (DePaul).

Thompson, a 6-4 senior transfer from Montini, collected 12 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in the Tigers’ 58-47 win against Geneva on Dec. 20. While Meadows has been especially vocal about containing Thompson during recent practices, the Vikings see their development in the two months since that game as a built-in benefit.

“The first time we played them, we were completely out of position. That was the first half of the season; like we’ve already said, that’s like a different team,” said Geneva senior center Sami Pawlak, a Nebraska-Omaha recruit. “The first time we played them, we stayed with them until the third quarter, and then we dropped it for some reason. I’m not going to say we’re overly confident, but we have confidence in ourselves.”

Much of that stems from the Vikings’ versatility, including strong rebounding from their guards.

With Wheaton Warrenville South missing two starters to torn ACLs – including senior guard Sierra Bisso, who scored 11 points in the December game – Geneva isn’t shy about turning the tables on the Tigers.

As usual, defense is the starting point, with the focus only shifting to a smaller area of the court.

“It’s totally different for us, because we’re used to getting up and pressing and playing a little faster,” Meadows said. “There’s times in our game that we do get out and run, but we’ve got to be more disciplined against this team.”

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