ELGIN – Every blue-clad student who had been chanting and cheering for the Geneva girls basketball team suddenly converged on the Vikings and their newest piece of hardware.
The Class 4A Judson Supersectional plaque survived the rush and the roar Monday night after Geneva beat Rockford Boylan, 60-41. Most importantly, so did the Vikings.
"I was a little nervous I was going to get trampled," freshman center Grace Loberg said, "but this makes it 10 times better."
"This" meant the euphoria swirling around a team that has won 14 straight games, a team that defeated an opponent from Rockford that entered with 23 consecutive victories.
Geneva (26-5) advanced to face Rolling Meadows in a state semifinal at Illinois State's Redbird Arena at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The Vikings don't figure to fret upon their arrival.
"We never had doubts. We knew we could do it. It was just whether or not we wanted to," junior forward Abby Novak said. "Whether or not we could push to do it. We knew we were capable of doing it. We had the talent and the effort that we needed to win, and we did."
Boylan (27-6) challenged Geneva in the first half after a sluggish start, but its ever-changing zone and man defensive looks eventually gave way to frustration.
The Vikings opened the third quarter on a 8-0 run in 2:15, then settled in. The Titans' Jensen Blassage led all scorers with 19 points, but Geneva usually had the answer at the other end.
"They would switch a lot and we had to be aware of everything, but we obviously did well adjusting to that," Novak said.
Geneva enjoyed a 39-16 rebounding edge, heeding coach Sarah Meadows' pregame message about exploiting the team's height advantage. The 6-foot-2 Loberg (18 points) and 6-foot Novak (16) reaped the benefits most often.
"I just tried to be as big as I could and then take the ball up as hard as I can," Loberg said. "Try to make plays."
Novak, who yielded her starting spot to a rejuvenated senior guard Michaela Loebel (knee) earlier in the postseason, provided a spark after returning to the starting lineup. Loebel told Novak before the game that Loebel would only take the floor as a reserve.
Novak scored four points early to key a 9-2 spurt to start the game, but the player with a name tailor-made for student section chants – "AB-BY NO-VAK!" – kept storming.
She delivered arguably her most memorable sequence early in the fourth, scoring on a put-back after the Vikings had grabbed three offensive rebounds. The basket provided a 47-33 lead. Cue the students and the usual fare of comfortable leads.
Six weeks ago, "WHY SO QUIET?" might have encapsulated the Vikings' mood after successive losses to Batavia and eventual 2A state champion Champaign St. Thomas More in less than 24 hours.
On Monday "WARM UP THE BUS!" referred not only to the shuttles taking fans to their cars at various points on campus, but the likely fan transportation headed downstate.
"I don't think these kids care who they play. I really think that they believe they can play with anybody on the court," Vikings coach Sarah Meadows said. "And we've got to continue to drill that and drill that. If you're going to go [downstate], you might as well win a game, you know. I mean, let's go. Let's win two."
Geneva entered the state tournament 32-0 on its most recent appearance in the 2008-09 season, but lost both games and finished fourth.
Meadows was an assistant to Gina Nolan then. Nolan since has stepped down from her position to battle breast cancer and fight it into remission. Per usual, she was in attendance Monday.
Geneva's senior class has shown plenty of resolve. Guard/forward Sidney Santos missed two seasons with knee injuries, while Loebel nearly did the same. Classmate Morgan Seberger has remained a constant in the Vikings postseason success and added 11 points Monday.
As fans watched the Vikings climb one more ladder to cut down another net, Santos reflected on the journey so far.
"I think the biggest thing about this year is the fact that our team can hold it together to clear each other's head," she said. "If someone starts getting worked up, we have each other to bring each other back down. It's truly a team win, team atmosphere. All of us together."