ST. CHARLES – Coming off a championship season, the Geneva girls basketball team kept its sights set high heading into this year.
Even after reaching the peak of a Class 4A state championship one season ago, many returning players have yet to forget the feeling of a deep postseason run that ended in elation.
The Vikings took care of their first goal by defeating St. Charles East Saturday 59-23, to complete their regular season with a perfect Upstate Eight Conference record – something that has not been done since the school joined the conference.
“For the few of us that have been playing on varsity all four years, it’s special,” Geneva senior Margaret Whitley said. “It was something that we came into the season wanting to accomplish…that was our first goal. I think we’re sad in the sense that it’s our last conference game being seniors, but we’re also really excited for what’s next and what we can do.”
Whitley, who had the game-winning shot in the final seconds of the state semifinal win over Fremd last season, finished her senior campaign as Geneva’s leading scorer at just under 13 points per game.
Four Geneva players have averaged at least eight points per game this season.
Having lost standout center Grace Loberg to graduation, Whitley, Stephanie Hart, Maddy Yelle, Brie Borkowicz, Madison Mallory, Lindsay Blackmore and the Vikings (24-3 overall, 12-0 UEC River) have really put an emphasis on improving the defensive part of its game.
That defensive effort caused 22 turnovers and shut out the Saints (13-13, 6-6), Saturday, in both the first and third quarters.
“Our defense is probably the best it has been all season,” Hart said. “The biggest thing for us on that end is communication. When we talk and make sure everyone is on the same page on that end, we feel like we make it hard for teams to score consistently on us. We’re in a really good place right now.”
Whitley added that this Vikings group “loves talking” off the court, so it was interesting that they struggled with communication on the court at times. Both Whitley and Hart echoed how important a team defensive effort is going to be when Geneva begins its second season this week.
The Vikings come into this postseason having won nine consecutive regional titles, including six sectional titles in that same span.
Despite reaching that pinnacle of success last season, it came to no surprise to coach Sarah Meadows that her group one-upped itself by winning an outright UEC River title.
“This is a competitive group. They want to be successful so badly,” said Meadows, who saw her team win its UEC River games by an average of 32 points per game. “It’s not just on game days, it’s also during practices. They get after each other every single day. They love to play the game of basketball, which is fun to watch and fun to coach.”
Although the Vikings have focused on improving defensively, it should be noted how tough Geneva can be to defend. Every player Meadows enters into her normal rotation has the ability to go to the basket and knock down long-range shots.
“They have tremendous depth,” St. Charles East coach Aubree Schuett said. “They can make substitution after substitution and they don’t miss a whole lot. That certainly helps them. As much as they are a great defensive team, they can all shoot the ball."
Geneva knocked down 207 3-pointers this season, which is an average of seven per game. Whitley leads all Geneva players with 70 made 3-pointers this season. The Vikings also made a season-high 17 3s (in 34 attempts) in a win against Yorkville on Jan. 20.
Fouling Geneva isn’t a good idea either, as it shoots 72-percent as a team, led by Hart (85 percent) and Whitley (84 percent).
What keeps the Vikings hungry coming into this postseason?
They know how much community support they had throughout last season’s run and that they are forever a part of Geneva history, sure. But, more importantly to them, it was the fun they had along the way.
Nothing can replicate that feeling, but Whitley sure wants to try and end her high school career right back in that same spot.
“We just talk about how fun it was to even just be able to go [to the state tournament],” Whitley said. “Obviously playing in all those games and winning it all was amazing, but I think what kept us hungry and motivated coming into this season was just that everyone misses it. It’s not like we’ve been saying 'We’re going again', but that we want to go again.”