BARTLETT – More tears streamed from the faces of Geneva girls basketball fans than players as the Vikings walked from their locker room back into the Bartlett gym Tuesday night.
By no means content with a season-ending loss to Wheaton Warrenville South in a 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinal, the Vikings still accepted the result, as well as the prolonged turning point.
The Tigers scored the game’s first 16 points before holding on for a 62-53 victory, and rallying back left Geneva with the ultimate “what if”. Still, there weren’t tears from the Vikings. Only reckoning. And perspective.
“Our season was full of ups-and-downs, but we stuck through it with each other until the end,” Vikings senior forward Kelly Gordon said. “It’s always going to be hard, but as long as you’ve got your teammates, you can push through it.”
Geneva (19-11) took its early lumps against the Tigers (28-3), who advanced to face Wheaton North in the sectional final at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Wheaton Warrenville South swished six of its first eight shots, while Geneva did not register a point until Sami Pawlak’s field goal with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter. The Tigers set the tone in transition in the first 30 seconds, with junior guard Meghan Waldron recording two steals and four points in that span.
“I think we were a little panicky at first,” Vikings junior guard Morgan Seberger said. “We were a little scared, and a quick couple turnovers kind of panicked us, so we just kind of lost it a little bit. That second quarter, we just finally turned it on.”
Adjusting to the Tigers’ 1-3-1 matchup zone, the Vikings cut their opponents’ advantage to six on five different occasions during the third quarter, but the DePaul-bound Waldron (28 points) provided an answer most times. She also responded when Pawlak (13 points) hit two free throws to bring Geneva to within 54-50 with 1:25 to go.
Wheaton Warrenville South’s other Division I recruit, 6-foot-4 senior post Diamond Thompson, converted a three-point play on a controversial continuation call in the closing moments of the third quarter. The Vikings limited Thompson to five points, but early lapses against Waldron and senior guard Kelly Langlas – whose 15 points included 5 for 6 shooting from the field – added up.
“We were trying to just push it and keep on them,” Langlas said. “We knew that they were going to come out strong after that and it wasn’t going to be an easy game.”
Seberger’s long-range shooting helped illustrate Geneva’s resilience while keeping the Vikings within striking distance. After missing her first four 3-point attempts, Seberger connected on three successive treys in the second quarter.
She finished with a team-high 17 points, including five 3s. Classmate Sidney Santos – who scored each of her 13 points after the break – made three 3s. Her final 3 brought Geneva to within 58-53 with about 36 seconds to go.
Wheaton Warrenville South needed another Waldron steal and layup in the final minute to push the lead to eight en route to eliminating the Vikings for the second straight season.
Abby Novak (10 points) also scored in double figures for the Vikings, who trailed by 12 points at the break and nine after three quarters.
“I’m like, you’re not going to be up by 80 at the end of this game,’ “ said Tigers coach Rob Kroehnke, recounting his halftime speech. “I mean, we’ve been in these games before. We started great, and we needed to. You knew they were going to come back.”
Wheaton Warrenville South made 16 of 22 free throws while Geneva went 17 for 21 from the foul line.
Despite winning the program’s fifth straight regional championship, Geneva finished with less than 20 victories for the first time since the 2004-05 team went 13-14.
Gina Nolan, who coached those Vikings and remained on the bench through the 2010-11 season, has been a fixture at games since stepping away from the program to focus on her health. Sarah Meadows, the Vikings’ former longtime sophomore coach, largely has kept up the winning continuity in her two seasons at the helm.
While the Vikings graduate starters Pawlak and Gordon, they should return core players such as Santos, Seberger and Novak, and expect the return of speedy point guard Michaela Loebel, who suffered a torn ACL in the fourth game of the season.
“I’m proud of us, how far we’ve came from the start, you know,” Seberger said. “We started off very slow after Michaela tore her ACL. We lost a point guard. We had to rebuild. People played different positions. We just fought back, and especially when we beat Neuqua Valley [in the UEC championship crossover] we thought, ‘Hey, this playoff run is going to go far.’ But, you know, Wheaton Warrenville South is just a good team, and it’s hard.”