NORMAL – Another gritty victory for the road – the one leading both home and to the girls basketball offseason – wafted up for grabs as Geneva and Marian Catholic played for third place in Class 4A.
Marian Catholic sprinted to a big early lead, Geneva countered and both teams played through mistakes on Saturday at Illinois State's Redbird Arena.
The Vikings shot 21 percent from the floor and still were within three points with 7:55 left in the game.
While a 45-34 loss to the Spartans wasn't an ideal way to cap the season, Geneva players still felt something bordering on contentment.
"We all believed in each other. We all fought these past couple weeks," senior guard Sidney Santos said. "And I couldn't imagine being here with anyone else, with a different team."
Geneva (26-7) matched the 2008-09 team for the program's best finish with its fourth-place showing.
That group of Vikings entered the state finals at 32-0 before losing both of their games. A handful of current players – grade-schoolers at the time – traveled to Redbird Arena to lend their support. Five years later, the cycle has started to repeat itself.
"We've had a lot of little kids down here this weekend in our hotel and some siblings who are going to grow up and be Vikings," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "And it's great for them to be able to experience. And not to mention we've got kids on our team now that got to experience it this year, and they're going to want to come back and be in the same spot."
Freshman Grace Loberg is chief among that group. The 6-foot-2 post made an immediate impact upon her midseason promotion from the sophomore team, and figures to be a linchpin in future seasons.
Her 12 rebounds against the Spartans (28-5) helped key Geneva's comeback after the team trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half.
Marian Catholic seized control after both teams started slowly, benefiting from strong outside shooting and Geneva's woes from the floor. Spartans senior forward Ashton Millender drilled three 3s during the first quarter, but even as she cooled off, Marian Central kept a double-digit edge thanks to the Vikings' 13 first-half turnovers and a 3 for 15 shooting.
An even-keeled halftime talk set the stage for an 11-3 Vikings run in the third quarter, and a pair of free throws from Abby Novak (13 points) five seconds into the fourth brought Geneva to within 26-23.
The Spartans' Gabrielle Cooper responded with two treys in the next 1:23, however, casting the Vikings aside one last time.
"My teammates kept telling me to shoot the ball, so I shot it and was happy to help my team," Cooper said.
Millender (16 points) and Cooper (10) both finished in double figures. Loberg (six) and Michaela Loebel (four) followed Novak for the Vikings.
Geneva brought a 14-game winning streak into the weekend before a narrow semifinal loss to Rolling Meadows. While they headed for home with two losses in as many days, the Vikings didn't let that cast a pall on the season.
"It does stink that you can't get a 'W' while you're here," Geneva senior guard Michaela Loebel said. "But, I mean, we put all of our effort just out on the court each game when we got here, and we showed a lot of teams that Geneva can play with you, and we just kept sticking to our goal, which was to play Geneva basketball and play together as a team. It's just incredible to walk away with a fourth-place finish."