Matt Le Cren’s girls basketball notebook

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Since the beginning of the season, Neuqua Valley’s goal has been to win a sectional championship. The Wildcats have a good shot at doing so when postseason play tips off next week.

Neuqua Valley (22-5) earned the top seed at the Class 4A Joliet Central Sectional and is playing its best ball of the season. The Wildcats take a 10-game winning streak into Friday’s Upstate Eight Conference title game at Batavia.

“We’ve been playing well as of late,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “You just hope that can continue for the next eight games.”

The Wildcats haven’t won a sectional title since 2002, when they finished third in the state. The main reason for that is four-time state champion Bolingbrook, which has won this sectional each of the past nine years.

Bolingbrook (15-5) is not as strong as it has been with the departure of coach Anthony Smith to Homewood-Flosmoor, but is still a formidable force. The second-seeded Raiders, who have eliminated the Wildcats the past two seasons, appear headed for a sectional final showdown with Neuqua.

“It’s a great rival,” Williams said of Bolingbrook. “It’s always going to be. It’s like the Bears playing the Packers. It’s good for basketball.”

The Wildcats are led by seniors Niki Lazar, Najee Smith and Malia Smith. They have kept the team on track despite injuries to sophomore guards Myia Starks and Kai Moon, who will be healthy when Neuqua opens play at the Plainfield South Regional on Feb. 19.

“We understand that being No. 1 doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win,” Williams said. “There is a target on your back. But I like our team. It’s a good, veteran team that’s been through a lot.”

Tale of the seeds

Aside from Bolingbrook, the team that scares Williams is No. 4 seed Benet, which has three solid scorers in guards Emily Eshoo and Kathleen Doyle and forward Emily Schramek.

The Redwings (16-8) can challenge any team when they shoot well and are battle-tested after playing in the strong East Suburban Catholic Conference.

If the seeds hold, Benet would face fifth-seeded Naperville North in an intriguing regional final at East Aurora. The Huskies (15-9) think they deserved a higher seed after beating Benet and No. 3 seed Oswego (17-7) in the regular season.

“Obviously it’s kind of a bummer,” Naperville North star Kayla Sharples said. “We beat Benet, we had some really big wins, so it is a little disappointing, but we know we just have to play extra hard. We improved a lot this year and we want to give an extra push at the end.”

Like many area teams, the Huskies are young and inconsistent, and haven’t developed a strong No. 2 scorer behind Sharples, who is averaging close to 19 points. But first-year North coach Jason Dycus won’t count his team out.

“I think this time of year is special for a reason,” Dycus said. “I think any team can get any given team on any night and I think that’s the way we have to approach it. I think it’s more about matchups than it is about seed, anyway.”

Best of the rest

No. 7 seed Metea Valley (14-14) and No. 9 Naperville Central (10-16) can present matchup problems but both have serious flaws that probably preclude a deep playoff run.

Metea, which opens Feb. 18 against Yorkville at Romeoville, is adept at playing tough defense and forcing opponents to play its style but shoots poorly and relies too heavily on senior guard Jenny Voytell for offense.

Naperville Central, which faces No. 8 Oswego East on Feb. 19 at Plainfield South, has two good scorers in Shannon Ryan and Emily Kraft, but lacks the size to beat elite teams.

Waubonsie Valley (6-17) is the 14th seed and faces host No. 19 Plainfield North in a play-in game Monday.

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