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Rivalry games will take center stage
By Craig Brueske | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 2/26/2012 12:07 AM

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If cross-town rivalries or games involving neighborhood bragging rights are appealing, then you are in for a real treat this week.

That's because 6 of our local teams will be matched up against each other in the first round of the Illinois High School Association's boys basketball tournament.

In Class 4A action, Batavia (7-18) will take on archrival Geneva (14-12) Monday night at the Metea Valley regional.

Two nights later, cross-town foes St. Charles East (14-12) and St. Charles North (13-15) meet for a fourth time this season at the St. Charles North regional, while Marmion (14-13) will try to complete a 3-game sweep of Aurora Central Catholic (9-17) in the Class 3A Sandwich regional.

No doubt, you'll be hearing chants of "Over-rated," "Warm up the Bus," and "He's a Sophomore" from the roaring student sections this coming week.

It won't be as much fun for the coaches.

"It's tough on me and I know it's tough on Pat (St. Charles East coach Woods) to go four times against each other with the rivalry and everything," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin, whose team is 2-1 against the Saints this season and owns the same lifetime mark against St. Charles East in regional tournament play.

"They know us and we know them," added Poulin. "We may start plays in different formations but there are no secrets. The last time we played them, they ran a lot of the same stuff but with different names. We'll have our guys focused on the defensive end and what their first and second options are in their offensive sets."

Woods wasn't surprised when the official pairings were announced a few weeks ago.

"Tom (Poulin) and I talked about it early in the season and we predicted that this was going to happen," said Woods. "The nice thing is that it's a good, healthy rivalry. It's not a dirty, nasty rivalry."

Admittedly, there is a little more at stake this time around.

"The bottom line is that it's state playoff time," said Woods. "You win, you move on. Anything can happen."

Woods sums up tournament time in one word intensity.

"Every possession, every play, every mistake is magnified and could be the difference in you moving on or going home," said the first-year Saints coach. "No one wants to see it end usually.

"Conference games are great but now it's the intensity of knowing you've got to execute because it's one-and-done," added Woods. "I think that's the best part of it for me as a coach."

Poulin wants his team focused on the task at hand.

"I think the tournament reinforces everything a coach tries to instill in his team the value of possessions, to try and string stops together defensively, and to play one possession at a time with the goal being to get a stop defensively and a high-percentage shot offensively," said Poulin.

"You can't waste possessions, and you can't have defensive breakdowns or your season ends."

Meanwhile, Batavia and Geneva will square off for a third time Monday night after the teams split their regular-season battles.

"I like the challenges of it," Batavia coach Jim Roberts said of the tournament. "You get to play a traditional rival on one night and then whoever comes out of that gets to play the third seed (Metea Valley) on their home floor. But they're all things that have to be earned. Everything is earned."

Geneva coach Phil Ralston doesn't mind that his team will be facing a familiar foe but would like to see the IHSA make some future tournament changes.

"Maybe I'm nostalgic or something but I do remember the geographic regional the true geographic regional and what kind of excitement that created," said Ralston. "No matter how your season had gone, it just seemed that teams were fired up at the end of the season. You knew you had to bring it in that geographic regional.

"We're in a similar situation this go-round but it's not the same thing," added Ralston. "Now we're playing 20 miles away from where our fans are, and I think that makes a difference."

When the IHSA adopted a 4-class system for basketball in 2007-08, it changed the tournament for the wrong reasons as far as Ralston was concerned.

"I don't have any problem with running sectional basketball complexes if we were still two classes because your sectional complex is not that spread out," said Ralston. "Now with four classes, your sectional complexes are so stretched.

"For heaven sakes, there was the potential that we could have been playing at Bolingbrook or at Romeoville. That's absurd for a first-round game. If we're going to stick with four classes, then you've got to do something to create a better environment.

"The fans understand that, the players understand that, and the coaches definitely understand that but it doesn't seem like anybody else beyond that understands that."

I've wondered for years why the IHSA often seems to cut a swath separating Batavia and Geneva from the St. Charles schools.

This year's tournament assignments have the Bulldogs and Vikings grouped in the East Aurora sectional complex, while the St. Charles teams are part of the Dundee-Crown sectional complex.

Why not have the 4 of them together at St. Charles North?

"Absolutely," Ralston responded. "Can you imagine what kind of excitement that would cause? That to me would bring back the true spirit of what high school basketball used to be about."

Ralston has a valid point.

While it doesn't seem possible, St. Charles East and St. Charles North haven't met in a regional basketball tournament since 2005.

Batavia and Geneva have only played each other 3 times in regional action over the past 10 years (2009, 2006, 2003).

"With four classes, it's way too spread out," said Ralston, "and I think it's killing the sport and the enjoyment of the sport. Some teams look at it as a game they have to play instead of something that they look forward to.

"And that's a shame."

Tournament formatting aside, Ralston does like the way his team has stuck together.

"They play hard and they listen," said the coach. "They maximize their talents out on the floor. I know the end is going to come somewhere down the road. I'm hoping it's not coming for awhile but when it happens I'm going to really miss that.

"It has been a long time since I've had a season where it was this much fun to coach."

Let the games begin.

You can reach Craig Brueske at