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Geneva girls basketball’s length boosts confidence, builds leads

Geneva’s Janie McCloughan (right) defends Amelia Grady’s shot during Wednesday’s practice. Geneva plays Rolling Meadows at 6:30 p.m. today in an IHSA Class 4A semifinal game in Normal.
Geneva’s Janie McCloughan (right) defends Amelia Grady’s shot during Wednesday’s practice. Geneva plays Rolling Meadows at 6:30 p.m. today in an IHSA Class 4A semifinal game in Normal.

Sidney Santos suggests length on the perimeter is underrated. She smiles before explaining her reasoning, because the Geneva girls basketball team is in the coveted position to make this argument.

Poll any of Geneva’s opponents in a season that resumes with tonight’s IHSA Class 4A state semifinal against Rolling Meadows and there likely would be no rebuttal. From the top of the key on down, the Vikings thrive on creating defensive havoc.

No Vikings starter stands shorter than senior guard Morgan Seberger’s 5-foot-11, and the range extends to 6-2 freshman post Grace Loberg. Santos, a 6-1 senior guard, and junior forwards Janie McCloughan (5-10) and Abby Novak (6-1) do plenty of arm-waving in between.

“Because we have our hands up, it brings energy, it brings tipped balls,” Santos said. “We might not get a steal, but getting a tip brings that much more momentum to us. That’s probably the biggest factor about our team is our length.”

Geneva enters tonight’s opening semifinal at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena in Normal on a 14-game winning streak. The team has allowed an average of 39 points during the stretch, and held opponents in the 20s three times.

On Monday, the Vikings stifled Rockford Boylan by staying active and confident. Yes, Geneva isn’t short on swagger, either.

“I mean, you look up and you say, ‘OK, we’re up by 15, but when can we be up by 20?’ ” Novak said. “We just need to extend our lead and just make it more secure, make us feel better. Play composed like our coach says.”

Vikings coach Sarah Meadows defeated Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky in their lone head-to-head meeting.

Kirkorsky was in his final season at Elk Grove when the host Vikings beat the Grens in a regional final in 2012.

Kirkorsky acknowledges some potential matchup problems for a Mustangs team that starts two guards 5-6 or shorter. That one of them is Saint Louis-bound point guard Jackie Kemph, last season’s Gatorade Illinois Girls Basketball Player of the Year, offers some salve. Rolling Meadows, the 4A runner-up last season, still packs punch in the paint in the form of 6-2 senior post Jenny Vliet.

“She does everything for us,” Kirkorsky said. “She shoots the 3, she posts up, she rebounds.”

Geneva yielded only two inches when Meadows replaced an ailing Novak with 5-9 senior guard Michaela Loebel in the starting lineup for two postseason games.

A Nebraska soccer recruit and the team’s longtime point guard, Loebel has steadily recuperated from a midseason knee injury and accelerates the Vikings’ athleticism whenever she’s in the lineup.

Her absence prompted Loberg’s December promotion from the sophomore team, a move that only was a matter of time as Loberg worked into basketball shape after helping the girls volleyball program to its first sectional title in the fall.

“We knew coming in that Grace was going to get moved up, and already we were all really tall,” McCloughan said. “And then with Grace, she just totally makes us even better.”

Fitting with the size motif, Loberg, the team’s leading scorer (14.3 ppg) and rebounder (8.9 rpg), said she “just tried to be as big as I could” en route to a team-high 18 points against Boylan.

That notion isn’t about to change for any player against the Mustangs, who proved susceptible to large early deficits in previous rounds.

“They’re a really good team,” Meadows said. “We are going in thinking for sure we can win the game. We’re making our adjustments and doing what we think we need to do to put us in that position.”


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