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Burlington Central girls basketball embraces 'slugging it out' mentality

Burlington Central coach Mark Smith provides a window of intrigue into this weekend’s Class 3A girls basketball tournament for a handful of entities outside Rocket Nation.

On Wednesday, the first boys coach in St. Charles North program history showed why, also invoking advice from former St. Charles East coach and AD Jerry Krieg, for whom he was an assistant.

“When you get into playoff basketball, you are really slugging it out in terms of possession by possession and half-court defense and half-court offense,” Smith said. “We know those past few games, we would have to stop people in the half-court because those teams at that level, you’re not going to blow away.”

BC isn’t eschewing that practicality for delusions of grandeur anytime soon. Its opponent in Friday afternoon’s state semifinal at Illinois State is Montini, a perennial power that placed third last season and won three straight state titles from 2010 to 2012.

Smith and his players have acknowledged the Montini mystique while taking measures against some of the novelties of state tournament play. The team practiced Wednesday at Elgin Community College in a bid to see a bigger floor akin to the one at Redbird Arena.

Central gets a 30-minute shootaround at the arena this afternoon.

“The floor is longer and you’ve got to get as used to as you can the shooting perspective and things like that,” Smith said. “The good thing is that every team only gets a half hour. You have to adjust pretty quick.”

He’s got connections: Ashley Capotosto nearly thwarted Geneva’s run to the Class 4A state tournament five seasons ago.

On Tuesday, she texted her former high school coach to remind him of his shot at retribution: Friday’s 4A semifinal between Geneva and Rolling Meadows.

Second-year Mustangs coach Ryan Kirkorsky spent 12 seasons at Elk Grove Village before taking charge of the Mustangs, including four as head coach. One of his more memorable losses came in a 2009 sectional semifinal at Addison Trail, when the Grens pushed the then-unbeaten Vikings behind 34 points from Capotosto, a versatile forward.

Geneva also handed Kirkorsky the final loss of his Elk Grove career, winning a 2012 regional semifinal at Geneva, 55-45.

“Geneva’s ended my season a couple times. We’ve played some tough games,” Kirkorsky said. “I know they’ve had a great program and a lot of good players go through there.”

Rolling Meadows, the defending 4A state runners-up, counters with its own talent, namely point guard Jackie Kemph. Last season’s Gatorade Illinois Girls Basketball Player of the Year, the Saint Louis-bound Kemph averages a team-best 21.2 points a game.

“She really controls the tempo for us. She can just control a game with her scoring and her passing and with her defense, too,” Kirkorsky said. “She’s obviously a big part of what we do.”

Noticing Nolan: Health concerns prompted former Geneva coach Gina Nolan to step down after the 2010-11 season, but she hasn’t strayed from the Vikings’ corner. Nolan, a breast cancer survivor, was again on hand during Monday’s Judson Supersectional victory against Rockford Boylan.

She remains on Geneva’s Spanish faculty.

“She’s always been a huge supporter. She sees me at school and she’ll say, ‘Good luck tonight. I’ll be there cheering you guys on,’ ” Vikings junior forward Abby Novak said. “She just wants this program to do well.”

Bus riders: Geneva and BC both are offering student pep buses to the state tournament.

Permission slips for Central’s buses were due Wednesday afternoon. Geneva still is taking sign-ups for its bus through today.

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