Let the second season begin.
That’s the opportunity the Fenwick and Oak Park and River Forest girls basketball teams will embrace as the IHSA state playoffs rev up this week.
Since the NCAA has March Madness, consider the upcoming itinerary of girls hoops as a February Frenzy of sorts.
The Friars are seeded second in the St. Joseph Sectional of the Class 3A playoffs. Fenwick opens play on Tuesday, Feb. 13 in the Crane Regional against Rauner. The winner will face either Clemente or Crane on Feb. 15 for the regional title. A matchup against top-seeded Nazareth in the sectional final seems likely; however, Fenwick coach Dave Power isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We certainly have the talent to get back Downstate for the first time since 2010 when we had Tricia Liston (Fenwick finished third at state), but we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game. Our ‘B’ game won’t do it,” Power said. “Anything is possible. You can’t look ahead because there are so many good teams and many upsets early. We’re going to approach every game as if it could be our last.”
Senior stars Kate Moore and McKenzie Blaze will have to play at a high level for the Friars.
“When both Kate and McKenzie are on, look out, because that’s when we’ll beat teams,” Power said. “When one’s on, we’re still in the game. When neither is on, that’s when we struggle. You’re talking about 2300-2400 points between those two, and that’s something you don’t see often.
“They’re not ball hogs either, they’re team-oriented,” Power added. “They care about their teammates more than individual stats. At the end of the day, basketball doesn’t define either one of them. They’re great young women.”
Lily Reardon, Gianni Ortiz, Maggie Van Ermen, Margaret Planek and Katie Schneider comprise a solid supporting cast of players.
“We have yet to play our best basketball and I’m excited to see what we can do these next few weeks,” Planek said. “I think it will be a good run.”
Not only has Fenwick played several quality non-conference opponents, but being in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red has been a grueling experience.
At first glance, the Huskies’ pedestrian record of 13-15 might suggest an early exit from the 4A playoffs. In reality, OPRF has played better than its won-loss record.
Plus, the recent return of senior leaders Amaya Coleman and Maeve Nelson from injury helps the Huskies’ chances in the Maine East Sectional.
“It was certainly an up-and-down regular season,” OPRF coach JP Coughlin said. “We got off to a good start but then started to struggle. However, we had some nice wins during the season, including (West Suburban Silver Conference champion) Glenbard West near the end – they came in on a 19-game winning streak at the time. That was the highlight.
“Injuries were a factor for some of our struggles – (Darse) Sanchez is out for the season. Everyone else is healthy for the playoffs. We haven’t been that way in a long time.”
In addition to improved health, OPRF guard Ahsha Spencer provides cause for optimism. Spencer, who poured in 24 points in OPRF’s 68-64 victory over Leyden on Feb. 7, has taken on a larger role in the absence of Sanchez.
“Since Darse went down, Ahsha has taken on quite a load offensively,” Coughlin said. “Having to be the point guard, getting other people involved, and having to be the leading scorer is no easy task. She has the most points, rebounds, steals, and blocks on the team.”
Another positive for OPRF is having Nelson back. The Northwestern softball recruit is an all-court player with great instincts for the game and plenty of athleticism.
OPRF opens the postseason against Evanston on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at the Lane Tech Regional. It’s a rematch of a regular-season game played at Evanston on Jan. 23. The Wildkits prevailed 52-46, but Coughlin likes his team’s chances.