WHEATON – Grace Loberg rebounded a missed Michaela Loebel free throw and passed to Janie McCloughan, who drilled an easy jumper.
Yes, the sequence that finally allowed the Geneva girls basketball team to exhale with the Class 4A Wheaton North Regional title Thursday night involved those three players.
A freshman post called up at midseason when Loebel suffered a knee injury, Loberg has jelled in the post with McCloughan, whose 20 points highlighted a 75-63 win against the host Falcons. Just days removed from spraining her left ankle in a club volleyball tournament, Loberg delivered 13 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks that only sparked the Vikings further.
“Grace is hurt, she grinds through it and does a great job. Michaela, you know, hasn’t played much this season,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. “For her to put together the game that she did is unbelievable. Great game for her.”
Loebel made two 3s in the opening minute of the third quarter, helping the Vikings (23-5) begin to build a cushion that proplled them to their 11th straight win.
Geneva advanced to face the winner of tonight’s Wheaton Warrenville South/Bartlett game in an Addison Trail Sectional semifinal Tuesday night.
Even with their next foe a mystery after moving past the Falcons (19-10), the Vikings are harnessing a strategy that’s evergreen no matter who shows up on the other side of the floor.
“Just a lot of mental preparation and really stressing the fact that we need to come right from the tip,” McCloughan said. “We can’t get too comfortable. If we have a lead, we need to keep playing like we’re losing.”
Fueled by a trio of double-digit scorers – including 22 points from program scoring leader Chrissy Baird – Wheaton North climbed out of an early 14-3 hole. The Falcons grabbed a 27-25 lead on a Baird 3-point play with 3:36 before halftime, but Geneva hardly folded.
Meadows stressed the Falcons’ focus on creating offense from their defense, so the Vikings worked to diversify their attack and be patient.
Loebel finished with 11 points off the bench in her longest duty since December. Starters Abby Novak and Sidney Santos both scored nine.
“Right away, we came out knowing that [the Falcons] would be really aggressive, and I think we all expected it,” Loebel said. “We stayed composed.”
Loberg, who helped steer the Geneva girls volleyball team to the program’s first sectional title in the fall, led that effort. She had to after sporting a surprise accessory at the beginning of her latest state series.
Loberg wore a walking boot on her left foot and missed Tuesday’s semifinal romp against Glenbard West after her injury over the weekend. She tested her mobility during Wednesday’s practice and was diligent about icing the ankle, even taking treatment during Meadows’ physical education classes.
She reported no issue with the ankle after the game.
“It’s a little sore, but it’ll be fine,” Loberg said. “It’ll be good.”
With the Falcons positioning for one last charge, Loebel went to the foul line with Geneva leading, 67-60, and 2:38 left in the game. The free throw was off, but Loberg quickly positioned for the rebound and gave the ball to an open McCloughan.
Hoisting Geneva’s sixth consecutive regional plaque, Loebel recalled that play and several others. It was easy to forget her ongoing physical therapy and that knee brace.
“I think a lot of it was adrenaline and the positivity and encouragement of my teammates,” Loebel said. “They were always there to pick us up.”