Neuqua Valley earns top seed in 8A

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Through nine weeks thus far in 2012, just how successful has the prep football season been throughout the Naperville area?

For the third straight season, four area programs will be making postseason plans, but consider the following tidbit.

For the first time in eight years, 2004, three Naperville-area prep football programs—Neuqua Valley, Benet and Waubonsie Valley—will enter the beckoning postseason with at least eight victories to their respective names.

Whereas Naperville North, Naperville Central and Neuqua Valley were each handed at least a No. 3 seed back in 2004, the three teams that went at least 8-1 this year all received at least a No. 4 seed.

Fresh off winning at least a share of their respective conference titles, Neuqua Valley (9-0) and Benet (8-1) received the highest seeds of the area’s four playoff qualifiers when the IHSA released the seeds and pairings for all eight classes on Saturday night.

“It’s a feather in these guys’ cap, for sure. But, to me, seeding can be very overrated and I don’t like to put a lot of stock in the seed because you gotta go play football games and these kids aren’t satisfied at all,” Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus said on Friday night after the Wildcats defeated Bartlett, 42-14, of his team’s impending high seeding.

“They’re hungry and the seed, to me, (is not as big a deal as people may think). Yeah, we’ve positioned ourselves in a good spot— regardless of the seed. But we gotta go win. We gotta go win next week and these kids have been able to stay focused on doing that.”

Concluding the regular season at 9-0 for the first time in program history, Neuqua Valley becomes the first Naperville-area team to go through the regular season unblemished since Naperville North did it in 2008 as defending Class 8A state champions.

The Wildcats will open their run through the Class 8A bracket at home as a top seed for the first time ever in program history opposite 16th-seeded Naperville North while resuming a series that has begun the season every year since 2005.

“We did expect it. That’s exactly who we expected,” Ellinghaus said Saturday night of his team’s impending matchup with Naperville North. “We had it pretty much figured out (Friday) night. We met as a staff (Friday) night after our game and pretty much thought we’d be seeing (Naperville) North again.”

Meeting for the first time ever in the postseason, Neuqua Valley will look to duplicate its Week 1, 43-20 victory over Naperville North (5-4) in the first postseason meeting between a pair of Naperville-area schools since 2003 when Naperville Central defeated Neuqua Valley, 17-14, in a Class 8A first-round tilt.

Despite finishing its regular-season slate with a 5-4 record for the third time in four years after Friday’s 21-14 home loss to DuPage Valley Conference champion Glenbard North, Naperville North is in the postseason for a 16th consecutive season.

For the second time in four years, the Huskies were handed a No. 16 seed by the IHSA—which was of no surprise to third-year Naperville North coach Sean Drendel.

“No, not at all (surprised). I mean, we’re 5-4. We expect to play a team that’s 9-0 or 8-1,” Drendel said. “On our side of the bracket, that happens to be Neuqua Valley. … Obviously, playing a team again is unique. We’re excited. They have an opportunity to get back at Neuqua (Valley) after what had happened earlier in the season. We just hope to make it a little bit closer. ”

While Naperville North and Neuqua Valley will duke it out for a second time this season, the area team that received the second-highest seeding, Benet, is still marveling at the season it has enjoyed up to this point.

Benet completed a remarkable turnaround from 1-8 to 8-1 in just one year’s time after beating Joliet Catholic, 31-21, on Friday to lay claim to a share of the program’s first East Suburban Catholic Conference title since it joined the conference in 1990.

Winners of at least eight games for the first time since 1997, the Redwings earned a No. 2 seed in the Class 7A bracket and will host seventh-seeded Andrew (6-3).

“Quite frankly, I didn’t even realize it was a two-seed. I just was just so focused on who we’re playing,” Benet coach Pat New said. “But that’s great. And, yeah, I actually am surprised. That’s amazing we’re seeded so high. I’m pretty excited about it.”

For the second straight year, a Naperville-area team received a top seed in the Class 8A bracket, with Neuqua Valley following in the footsteps of one of its two District 204 brethren, Waubonsie Valley.

A year after finishing the regular season at 8-1 for the first time since 1997, only to get upset by 16th-seeded Belleville East in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs, Waubonsie Valley (8-1) rebounded quite strongly in 2012 by rattling off a second straight 8-1 regular season.

In reaching postseason play for the sixth straight season and for the seventh time in eight years under coach Paul Murphy’s tutelage, the fourth-seeded Warriors will start aiming for redemption from 2011’s first-round exit in earnest opposite 13th-seeded Proviso West next weekend.

“Yeah (it’s where we expected to land within the 8A bracket). (Friday) night, when we saw Mount Carmel, Marist and Neuqua all won, we knew the worst we would be is four,” Murphy said of the Warriors’ fourth-seeded placement.

Dates and times for all first-round games will be released by the IHSA on Monday afternoon at 3 p.m.

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