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Conference season review: DuKane, DuPage, ESCC and the Fox Valley

Geneva's Mitch Mascari (22) fires up a shot against Wheaton North, Friday 01-04-19. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

This ongoing series will provide a recap of the season for each of the top conferences in the area, continuing here with the DuKane Conference, DuPage Valley Conference, East Suburban Catholic Conference and the Fox Valley Conference.

◼︎ DuKane Conference

Preseason favorite: Geneva

Conference champ: Geneva

Signature moment: The run Geneva went on this season surpassed any preseason expectations. The Vikings lost just once in the regular season and won the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and captured regional and sectional titles. A tremendous six-year run was capped off this season with a school record 32 victories.

Biggest surprise: The 23 wins from Lake Park, along with a regional championship game win over Benet as the No. 7 seed, was without a doubt the biggest revelation. The fact first-year coach Billy Pitcher did so with a group of juniors adds to the surprise.

Featured attraction: Yes, Jack McDonald was already a household name in the DuKane Conference. But the impact McDonald had, both on his team and in crunch time of games, was undeniable and at a different level which led to all-state recognition and the Sun-Times All-Area team.

Breakout star: McDonald was the league’s best player and Nate Ortiz was St. Charles East’s best player. But 6-7 senior Cody Mitchell had a breakout season for St. Charles East after averaging just 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a game as a junior. This year Mitchell, who is headed to play at Illinois Wesleyan, put up 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.

◼︎ DuPage Valley Conference

Preseason favorite: There was debate among who the favorite was in the preseason among league coaches with Naperville North, Naperville Central and Waubonsie Valley garnering attention.

Conference champ: Naperville North

Signature moment: There weren’t a whole lot of signature moments to choose from in the DVC, so Waubonsie Valley winning 27 games, earning a No. 2 seed in the East Aurora Sectional and claiming its first regional title in over a decade is the one.

Biggest surprise: No one saw the struggles of Naperville Central coming. While the Redhawks did lose a whole bunch of starters from the previous 20-win team in 2017-2018, many believed the returning young group, headed by juniors Cam Dougherty and Chris Conway, would contend. Central did regroup from a 1-9 start, but the 10-17 overall record was surprising.

Featured attraction: Naperville North’s Tom Welch was the class of the conference from an individual standpoint. First-year coach Gene Nolan did an outstanding job of maximizing his 6-8 forward’s great versatility, putting the ball in his hands in a variety of ways and situations. The Loyola recruit finished the season averaging 21 points and 8.6 rebounds a game while shooting 66 percent from the field.

Breakout star: Neuqua Valley’s John Poulakidas is one to watch going forward. The 6-4 sophomore put up 15.5 points a game and buried 72 three-pointers on the year, becoming the first sophomore to ever lead Neuqua Valley in scoring.

◼︎ East Suburban Catholic Conference

Preseason favorite: St. Viator

Conference champ: Marian Catholic

Signature moment: Sectional week included Carmel, St. Viator, St. Patrick and Marian Catholic all still alive. No one survived to advance to super-sectional play but there are few conferences in the state with four teams still playing in the sectional.

Biggest surprise: In a league where the heavyweights –– St. Viator, Benet and Marian Catholic –– garnered the headlines and rankings, St. Patrick quietly put together a 20-win season out of nowhere.

Featured attraction: Jeremiah Hernandez has been a force for some time. As a senior he became a consistent and steady force. The 6-4 guard is a complete player who averaged 19 points, five rebounds and four assists a game. He’s headed to Kent State next year.

Breakout star: There is some star power in the league with St. Viator’s Hernandez and Trey Calvin, Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles and Troy D’Amico, Benet’s Colin Crothers and Kendrick Tchoua, Marian’s Ahron Ulis and Carmel’s Kimahri Wilson, but St. Patrick’s Austin Freeman was a no-namer who averaged 18 points, five rebounds and four assists a game.

◼︎ Fox Valley Conference

Preseason favorite: Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake Central

Conference champ: Crystal Lake South and Crystal Lake Central

Signature moment: A pair of Crystal Lake schools –– South and Central –– played in some meaningful late-season games. The two hooked up with a conference title on the line in the middle of February, while meeting a third time in a regional semifinal game in late February. The results? Crystal Lake Central swept all three matchups.

Biggest surprise: Crystal Lake South, behind shooter Tyler Miller and versatile 6-4 Matt Reall, surprised, winning a share of the conference championship for the first time since 1983.

Featured attraction: The big man at Crystal Lake Central, Alex Timmerman, led his team to a share of the league title. The Bucknell-bound recruit averaged 17.4 points and pulled down 9.2 rebounds a game while blocking 47 shots.

Breakout star: Beau Frericks is just getting started. The 6-1 guard shined as a junior by averaging 19.1 points a game. A sniper from the perimeter, Frericks shot 40 percent from three (67 of 168) and added 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game.