It may be a little early for March Madness, but the thrills and heartbreak which is Illinois high school postseason basketball will reach its peak for several metro-east girls teams this week.
Class 1A and Class 2A super-sectionals will be held in Jacksonville at Illinois College and at Salem High School respectively, tonight, while Class 3A and Class 4A are competing in sectionals hosted by Waterloo and Normal West high schools.
Super-sectional will advance to the Class 1A and Class 2A state tournaments, which begin Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Class 1A Jacksonville (Illinois College) Super-Sectional, Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Okawville (23-8) vs. Mount Pulaski (28-4): With a 41-36 win over Carrollton on Thursday, the Rockets earned their first super-sectional bid since 2008 and are a step away from a state-tournament bid.
Standing in their way is Mount Pulaski, a school known for its exploits as a state volleyball power that has enjoyed success on the basketball court this season.
The Lady Toppers have placed second in the Class 1A state volleyball tournament in each of the past two years. Senior all-state guard Jessica Awe leads Mount Pulaski's scoring attack at 17.3 points per game, but also adds nearly six assists and five steals per contest.
"I know they have the one all-stater (Awe) and two other perimeter players who can shoot 3s pretty well,'' Rockets coach Michelle Hasheider-Burianek said. "We're going to have to play good defense and know where their shooters are at all times. We're going to have to play smart.''
Quincy University recruit Megan Wienstroer (18.7) leads the Rockets, who also must continue to get good production from Janel Lake and Jolyn Lake.
For Hasheider-Burianek, one of the great players in metro-east history while playing at Okawville, the postseason ride has been a good one.
"I'm having fun. This is a great group of kids and all this brings back good memories," she said. "The girls are excited and I think we'll go up and play a good basketball game.''
Class 2A Salem Super-Sectional, Monday, 8 p.m.
Nashville (27-2) vs. Teutopolis (24-7): Two of the most successful small-school programs in the state, the Hornettes and Wooden Shoes will hook up at Salem High School with a trip to the Class 2A state semifinals on the line.
The Wooden Shoes are coming off an impressive 57-34 win over previously undefeated and No. 3 ranked Mount Carmel at the Newton Sectional. Freshman Danielle Repking scored 22 points and helped hold Tyra Buss, the state's leading scorer, to 20 points, 19 below her season average.
"They were at the Highland Tournament, but I didn't see them play much. I know they're playing much better than they were at Highland, especially in the last couple of weeks,'' Nashville coach Wayne Harre said. "They have a 6-foot-1 player up front and a good player in the freshman (Repking). They play hard and like us, they're physical.''
Nashville, which is 7-0 in super-sectionals under Harre since 2001, is coming off an impressive 44-17 defeat of Red Bud in the title game of the Dupo Sectional. Sophomore Jordi Harre had six 3-pointers to pace the win.
But as usual there wasn't much of a celebration from the Hornettes.
"We enjoyed it for two or three hours then we moved on. That's the way we are,'' Wayne Harre said. "I've been pleased with our intensity and focus. We're just looking one game at a time.
The Class 1A Salem Super-Sectional between Cowden-Herrick and Beecher City, precedes the Nashville-Teutopolis game beginning at 6 p.m.
Class 3A Waterloo Sectional, Monday
Columbia (21-7) vs. Mater Dei (23-6), 6 p.m.
Civic Memorial (24-7) vs. Massac County, 8 p.m.
A pair of Eagles, Civic Memorial and Columbia, will look to earn title-game berths by defeating a pair of tough opponents.
Columbia, getting a combined 22 points and 19 rebounds from seniors Savannah Wittenbrink and Erika Varel, ended upstart Freeburg's Cinderella postseason run with a 43-29 win at the Columbia Regional.
And while Columbia is still relatively new to Class 3A, Mater Dei coach Dave Kohnen is wary about his Knights semifinal opponent.
"Honestly, I don't know a lot about Columbia. I know they've got a good player in (Savannah) Wittenbrink," Kohnen said. "But you don't win a regional title and get to this point in the season if you're not a good team.''
A perennial Class 3A power, Mater Dei scored a hard-fought 36-31 win over Effingham to win the Centralia Regional.
Mater Dei is led by the inside combination of Emily Koelling and Jamie Voss.
Mississippi Valley Conference champion Civic Memorial will take on Massac County in the other semifinal, with the two winners clashing for the title at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Class 4A Normal West Sectional, Tuesday
Edwardsville (29-0) vs. Belleville West (22-7) at Alton High School, 7:30 p.m.
With a pair of lopsided losses to Edwardsville during the Southwestern Conference season, the Maroons head into the game as huge underdogs against a Tigers team which is ranked first in the Class 4A state poll and has been ranked among the top 25 in the nation for much of the season.
"Do we have a chance? As a coach preparing your team, you always feel like you've got a chance going into every game,'' Maroons coach Clayton Fisher said. "Realistically we're going to have to play extremely well and Edwardsville will have to not play as well.
"Let's be honest. We could go in there and get blown out or it could be a close game.''
Edwardsville, led by senior all-stater Emmonnie Henderson, is coming off a 72-30 demolition of Springfield in the finals of the Alton Regional. Springfield entered the game ranked sixth in Class 4A.
Peoria Richwoods will play Minooka in the other semifinal, with the two winners playing for the sectional title at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Normal West.