NORMAL – Geneva girls basketball players Sidney Santos, Morgan Seberger and Grace Loberg entered the media room with coach Sarah Meadows on Friday night to the sight of four lemon-lime Gatorade bottles resting on a table.
Until Meadows asked several minutes later whether it was OK to drink them, the bottles remained untouched.
Spoils are hard to find when you lose for the first time in nearly seven weeks, least of all when that defeat comes in an IHSA Class 4A state semifinal. Assessing the way Rolling Meadows rallied for a 51-43 victory to advance to today’s state championship, the Vikings worked to realize their season still brought another challenge in the third-place game.
“Right now, I’m the biggest sore loser. I hate losing,” Santos said. “But the biggest thing right now is to re-focus for [today]. Yes, it [stinks], of course we wanted this win, but we all have to change our attitudes, prepare for [today] and come and get a win together.”
Geneva (26-6), the fifth-seeded team in its sectional, had earned 14 consecutive victories before Rolling Meadows stopped the streak, bent on avenging last season’s loss to Marian Catholic in the title game.
The Vikings will face Marian at 6:30 p.m. today, while the Mustangs (29-4) follow against Whitney Young for the championship.
Rolling Meadows watched Geneva quickly recover from a six-point halftime deficit and take a 34-32 lead after three quarters. That’s about when the Mustangs’ urgency kicked into overdrive.
“We definitely cracked down on defense,” Mustangs senior guard Jackie Kemph said. “We knew that we only had eight more minutes and we wanted back in the championship.”
The Mustangs began making that path clearer during a 7-2 run midway through the fourth quarter. Alexis Glasgow delivered the biggest shot of the spurt, nailing a 3 with 5:40 remaining to give her team a 40-36 lead.
“Lost the rotation, she hit that big 3, then we had a couple possessions where I feel like we forced things,” Meadows said. “We didn’t take our time with the possession.”
To be sure, Glasgow secured the rebound of a missed layup on the next possession and quickly moved the ball to Kemph, who converted a layup on the other end.
Glasgow was playing with a protective mask on her face after breaking her nose during supersectionals. She adjusted nicely, scoring a game-high 18 points to join Kemph (13) and Jenny Vliet (11) in double figures.
Geneva showed its usual scrappiness in staying close with Rolling Meadows. It was heightened in the closing minutes of the first half as the Mustangs tried to build on their lead at the break.
In one sequence, Santos swatted a Kemph layup attempt before sprawling to the floor to wrestle a would-be rebound from the grasp of Kemph’s twin sister, Allie.
Jackie Kemph rebounded a missed a 3 in the final seconds of the half and quickly moved for a putback, but the Vikings swarmed to the scene and jarred the ball away to avoid further harm. The stretch helped keep Geneva’s halftime morale upbeat.
“Each one of us just told each other this is the reason why we’re here. We’re trying to play the best basketball we can against the best teams in the state,” Seberger said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing and keep being composed and just keep going and putting all the work on the floor.”
Outrebounded, 26-24, despite another dazzling effort from the freshman Loberg – 12 points, nine rebounds – Geneva also relied on its outside game. Seberger matched Loberg for the team lead while hitting a pair of third quarter 3s that were part of an overall 15-7 run in the quarter.
Rolling Meadows’ aggressiveness toward the basket added up. Geneva landed in foul trouble early in the fourth and could only watch as the Mustangs converted 14 of 18 free throws in the quarter en route to a 19 for 24 night from the line.
Santos, an Oakland (Mich.) recruit and the team’s floor leader, fouled out with 2:54 to play.
Janie McCloughan (eight points) and Abby Novak (six) provided secondary scoring options for Geneva, which shot 40.5 percent (17 for 42). Teh Vikings will aim to improve on the 2008-09 team’s fourth place finish.
“I thought we were getting the looks we wanted. I thought we lost a little bit of composure in a couple runs there,” Meadows said. “But overall, we’re happy to be here. I just said to the girls, ‘Everybody wants more,’ and we want to leave with a ‘W,’ so [today] is going to be tough to play, but we’ve got to turn around and re-focus and be ready.”