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Geneva's future looks quite bright
By John Lemon | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/21/2012 12:50 AM

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One of the more observant reporters (and it sure wasn't me) covering Geneva's season-ending loss Monday noticed that after changing into her Vikings windbreaker and sweats following the game coach Sarah Meadows looked ready for practice.

And it turns out she was, no doubt wanting to work on getting back on defense and some offensive struggles in a 54-37 loss to Wheaton Warrenville South at the Class 4A Hoffman Estates sectional that was uncharacteristic of Geneva's 24-6 season.

"Oh yeah," Meadows said about wanting to practice. "I told them I think we just exited way too early."

It is the earliest Geneva has been knocked out since 2008, snapping the Vikings' sectional championship streak at three. As much as Meadows would like, there won't be another practice of a memorable 2011-12 season.

There's certainly no shame in losing to Wheaton Warrenville South, the three seed in the sectional to Geneva's two and now with a 28-3 record.

But having defeated the Tigers by 7 points earlier this season made it that much harder for the Vikings to figure out how the rematch got away.

"I don't know," senior guard Rachel Hinchman said. "We just didn't have the momentum going this game. We tried our best, we worked our hardest. We really wanted to win but sometimes it doesn't always work in our favor."

Tigers coach Rob Kroehnke said his staff watched the tape of that 65-58 loss to Geneva. He thought the main improvement his team made was cutting their turnovers to 16 on Monday including just 5 in the second half.

"The first time we played them, we're a young team. We were really young in December," said Kroehnke whose squad like Geneva only starts one senior.

"We played really young (in the first meeting). Second half (tonight) I thought we really grew up a little bit. We talked about handling the pressure and I thought we did. I think that was what it was. We stayed composed."

Watching her team get outscored 33-16 in the second half including 22-11 in the fourth quarter, Meadows didn't see the same composure.

A play that perhaps symbolized the season slipping away came on a WW South free-throw attempt. All the Tigers except the shooter Margaret Dansdill were back on defense, but four Vikings couldn't corral the missed free throw and Dansdill hustled to keep possession.

"We kind of fell apart in the fourth quarter, came unraveled a little bit," said Meadows.

Geneva managed to lead 23-21 at halftime despite giving up numerous wide-open layups as the Tigers threw over the Vikings press. Geneva coaches and fans alike spent most of the first half yelling, "Get back!"

"We just didn't get the first trap," Meadows said of the press breakdowns. "We let her go right through us. We needed to slow her down.

"We knew (at halftime) every single basket was inside. We didn't get to our spots. They had a lot of easy shots."

Meadows and Hinchman didn't spend too much time in their postgame comments talking about what went wrong. They focused on all Geneva accomplished in Meadows' first year as the varsity coach taking over for Gina Nolan.

"We had a good season. We have nothing to be ashamed of," said Hinchman, who led Geneva with 11 points and along with Stevie Fanale, Stephanie Sharpe, Rebecca Lin, Allison Wright and Ashley Santos are the seniors Geneva graduates.

"It's sad but I have no regrets. It's a great team, we had a great season."

It began with victories over Morgan Park and Montini to win their own Thanksgiving tournament. Geneva started 10-0 before a bump with three losses at the Benet/Naperville North Thanksgiving Tournament.

The Vikings recovered to blow through the Upstate Eight River at 12-0 before winning their fourth straight regional championship.

Geneva's best basketball might have been the first half against an undefeated Lincoln-Way East team in January at the McDonald's Shootout. The Vikings made Lincoln-Way East look like a JV team for that half, forcing turnover after turnover in building a 22-point lead.

But late in that half the Marquette-bound Santos went down with a knee injury. It turned out to be a season-ending torn ACL.

Geneva wound up going 8-3 in the 11 games without Santos including a win over a regional champ in West Chicago. But beating top-flight teams like Fenwick, Waubonsie Valley and Wheaton Warrenville South the Santos injury proved too much to overcome though not for a lack of effort.

"I think a lot of people questioned us what we would do after that," Meadows said. "I think we answered those questions and we were fine. Losing Ashley was huge but these kids answered and they did a good job."

Meadows said the "what-if" thoughts occasionally entered her mind if Geneva had a healthy Ashley and her sister Sidney Santos, a sophomore who has suffered season-ending knee injuries the past two years.

"If we had a little extra fire, absolutely. That's huge. It's huge to lose them," said Meadows, who quickly added she doesn't spend much time at all thinking that way.

"I try not to do that because it's not fair to the kids, to the team. We had to move on. And they did. They did a nice job. For sure we missed both of them, not a doubt in my mind. But you just have to go on."

That Geneva did and will continue to do. Their sophomore and freshman teams had two more outstanding seasons losing a combined four games. There's all kinds of returning varsity talent led by Sami Pawlak, Michaela Loebel, Kelly Gordon, Morgan Sebeger, Abby Novak and barring more awful luck Sidney Santos.

No wonder Meadows can't wait to practice again.

"Great season," Meadows said. "I've said it all year long these kids work their tails off. I know it's hard to go off with a loss like this but 24-6 is a great record and we're young. We have kids coming back next year. I hope those young kids are hungry, that they don't want this feeling again."