Kaneland and Geneva played a memorable game at the United Center earlier this season as the teams traded clutch shots in the final minute, with the Vikings emerging victorious.
The Knights and Vikings have only picked up steam since that early January clash, and both programs were rewarded late last week with strong postseason seeds.
Kaneland was the lone area 3A or 4A team to earn a top seed, although the Knights are not part of a sectional that is seeded top to bottom. The Knights (15-9) are the No. 1 seed in the six-team IHSA Class 3A Kaneland Regional, where St. Francis – another hot team –áis the No. 2 seed, and Marmion the No. 3.
Kaneland posted conference wins Friday against Morris and Saturday against Sycamore, keeping the Knights alive in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East race. If Kaneland wins the finale against DeKalb on Friday and Sycamore defeats Morris, the Knights, Redskins and Spartans would finish in a three-way tie for the conference title.
Geneva, meanwhile, was voted the sixth seed in the 23-team Class 4A East Aurora Sectional. Geneva coach Phil Ralston was encouraged the Vikings (21-5) were highly regarded in such a deep sectional.
"I don't know when the last time was Geneva got a 6 seed in the sectional complex," Ralston said. "Game on. It's about time we get a seed like that. We're excited about it."
Geneva's draw, though, was somewhat of a double-edged sword, considering the Vikings likely will open with a March 5 regional semifinal against host Plainfield East. Provided 10th seeded Plainfield East wins its regional opener against 22nd seeded Wheaton Warrenville South, the Vikings would have to deal with Illinois recruit Aaron Jordan on the Bengals' home floor. Ralston said he's not fretting about a potential road game for regionals.
"I think if you said that about other years, yeah, but we've been a pretty darn good road team, so I don't think that's that big of an issue," said Ralston, whose squad won at St. Charles North on Friday and at South Elgin on Saturday. "I think our guys have a certain level of comfort of playing on the road and preparing themselves for those games, and by and large, we've done pretty well. Someone has to play them on their home court – might as well be us."
UEC crossovers come into focus
Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North tying for second place in the Upstate Eight Conference River muddied the end-of-season UEC crossovers scheduled for this week, but the matchups crystallized Monday.
Geneva won the tiebreaker and will host the second-place crossover against Waubonsie Valley of the UEC Valley Division on Friday night. St. Charles East will host Metea Valley on Friday, while St. Charles North (home against West Chicago) and Batavia (likely vs. South Elgin) will play Thursday games.
The East-Metea game will be a rematch of last month's 82-73 Metea win in Aurora, when the Saints' Cole Gentry scored 32 points to keep the Saints afloat without the injured Dom Adduci. More recently, Adduci sat out Saturday's win over Riverside-Brookfield after spraining his ankle Friday against Elgin, and East coach Pat Woods said Adduci might not play in this week's crossover in order to heal for the March 3 regional opener against Streamwood.
Woods said he wouldn't worry about Adduci being rusty for regionals if he doesn't play this week.
"Not with Dom," Woods said. "The kid's a gym rat. Who knows, it might refresh him a little bit."
St. Charles North's loss to Geneva on Friday dropped the North Stars into a three-way tie behind Larkin in the final UEC River standings, but from the sound of it, North coach Tom Poulin wouldn't have been happy even if North finished second outright.
"We're all the first losers in the conference," Poulin said after the Geneva game. "There's nothing good about second place."
Moments later, Poulin softened that stance – to an extent.
"I'm proud of our kids and their effort," Poulin said. "It's a heck of a conference and a heck of a division this year. So to be 8-4, that's an accomplishment, to lose twice to Larkin, once to East, once to Geneva. Those are good teams. But second place is second place. We wanted to be first place.
" … A regional title, I think trumps a conference title, and that's what we're shooting for as we go forward."
IN THE GROOVE
Nate Navigato, Geneva, Jr., F
What he did: Navigato demonstrated again that he can score in bunches, notching 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter in Friday's win at St. Charles North and scoring 23 of his 28 points in the first half of Saturday's lopsided win against South Elgin.
Gordon Behr, Wheaton Academy, Sr., F
What he did: Behr scored 15 points on Tuesday in a loss against powerhouse Benet Academy, then added 21 points in Saturday's 66-58 win against North Lawndale.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK
Thanks goodness for Streamwood if you're a Batavia fan this season.
Batavia swept the regular season series with Streamwood on Friday to steer clear of last place in the UEC River. The Bulldogs were 2-0 against Streamwood this season and 0-10 against the rest of the conference.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
Whether Mooseheart and/or Aurora Christian can collect some postseason hardware.
The 1A and 2A postseason begins this week, with top-seeded Mooseheart competing at the 1A Somonauk Regional and third-seeding Aurora Christian competing in the 2A Aurora Christian Regional.
COACH SLY SAYS
Marmion enjoyed the last laugh over Aurora Central Catholic in the ACC-Marmion rivalry on Friday night, but in the bigger picture, it's a shame the Cadets and Chargers are parting company as conference rivals.
ACC is headed to the Metro Suburban, splintering off from the Suburban Christian Conference, effective next school year.
The Marmion-ACC game will be missed. If the schools can't agree on some non-conference dates in the future, athletes and students at both schools will be deprived of some top-notch atmospheres and great memories.