Only three years removed from a runner-up finish at the Class 2A state girls basketball tournament, the Central Cougars appear poised for another lengthy postseason playoff run.
Competing in Class 3A for the second year in a row, the Cougars (22-3) have earned a No. 1 seed for the Carbondale regional-sectional complex, which begins next week at four sites throughout Southern Illinois. Central will compete in the Freeburg regional, which begins Monday at Freeburg High School.
Led by senior Faye Meissner, the Cougars have relied on the disciplined coaching style of Nathan Rueter to continue to be successful.
“We have had outstanding contributions from everyone,” Rueter said. “While Faye (Meissner) deservedly gets a lot of the publicity, we have had other members of the team step up and perform on a nightly basis. Clarece (Jansen) has been an outstanding vocal leader for us. Carson (Newkirk) and Olivia (Wesselmann) have improved immensely from a season ago. It’s been a total team effort.”
And while Civic Memorial and Highland have had their share of ups and downs this season, Rueter has kept Central steady. The Cougars grabbed the No. 1 seed with a 39-36 win over Civic Memorial at the Highland Tournament last month and have won 11 of their last 12 games.
Meissner, a key member of the Cougars’ program for the last four years and a University of Missouri-St. Louis recruit, will lead the Cougars into their first-round game Feb. 13 against either seventh-seeded Columbia or 10th-seeded Mascoutah in a semifinal game at Freeburg. The final will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 15.
Other regional tournaments what feed into the Carbondale sectional will be held at Civic Memorial, Mount Vernon and Carterville. The four regional winners advance to the Feb. 20 sectional. Carterville (22-3) is the other top seed, while Civic Memorial (25-2) and Salem (15-12) are the second seeds.
Edwardsville earns top seed
One of the favorites to play for a state championship in early March, the undefeated Edwardsville Tigers (24-0) have earned one of two top seeds for the Class 4A Champaign Centennial regional-sectional complex, which begins with first-round regional games Monday.
Led by its big three of all-state forward and University of Iowa recruit Kate Martin and seniors Rachel Pranger and Myriah Noodel-Haywood, the Tigers won another Southwestern Conference title this season. Second in the Class 4A state tournament a year ago, the Tigers will open postseason play Feb. 14 at the Belleville East regional against either eighth-seeded Alton or nine seed Belleville West.
Fourth seed Belleville East is the likely opponent for Edwardsville in the title game Feb. 15. Rock Island (20-7) is the other top seed, while O’Fallon (23-3) and Normal Community (21-6) are the No. 2 seeds.
While Edwardsville will play its regional at Belleville East, O’Fallon heads north for the second straight year and will play in the Chatham Glenwood regional.
Beaten by Springfield in the regional title game a year ago, the Panthers will take on either sixth seed Quincy or No. 10 seed Champaign Centennial at 6 p.m. Feb. 14 in the first of two semifinals.
O’Fallon coach Nick Knolhoff said his team will be ready for the challenge of taking on the top schools in central Illinois.
“We can’t do anything about regional sites. I know we are only team really traveling to that site, but I understand Edwardsville being the one seed gets to stay close to home,” Knolhoff said. “Plus, Belleville East was the No. 4 seed, and they are the other host, so it’s just the way the seeds fell.
“Springfield beat O’Fallon last year for title, so the girls have a sour taste in their mouth and are ready to compete.”
Other regionals feeding into the Champaign Centennial sectional are being hosted by Bradley-Bourbonnais and Pekin. That sectional will be Feb. 19 and 22.