The Central Cougars enter the start of the postseason this week as the top-ranked Class 2A team in the state — a position they have held all season long.
Coach Nathan Rueter’s squad has one of the St. Louis area’s premier post players in St. Louis University recruit Kendra Wilken and three of the top guards in the metro-east in Grace Yaunches, Faye Meissner and Breanne Jansen — who all played huge roles in helping the Cougars place second in the 2015 Class 2A State Tournament.
On Wednesday, the Cougars — although a little battered and bruised — will begin their 2016 postseason journey with similar aspirations.
Heading into its first round game at the Central Regional on Wednesday against either Cahokia Conference rival Carlyle or Roxana, the Cougars (23-5) expect to have both Meissner and Wilken back in the lineup after both missed the regular season finale on Thursday at Belleville East with injuries.
“They both could have played. We took precautionary measures with both of them, especially with Faye to make sure she’s ready to go in the postseason,” Rueter said. “It’s not that all the games aren’t important because they are, but considering what we’ve got the tournament coming up which will define our season, we felt it was best we rest them both.’’
“With what is ahead we feel like we made the right decision for everybody concerned.’’
While Wilken sat out with soreness after a recent game with Wesclin, Meissner has been bothered by painful shin splints in recent weeks. The Cougars have also been without senior guard Alicia Book for the entire season after the senior guard suffered an ankle injury during the preseason.
Still, the Cougars have been the dominant Class 2A team in the state. Led by Wilken, the 6-2 senior, who went over 2,000 points and became Central’s all-time leading scorer (boys or girls), late in the season, the Cougars won the Highland Tournament and placed second in the Mascoutah Holiday Tournament.
A first-team all-state selection last season, Wilken leads the Cougars in scoring at 17 points per game and has been a force on the backboards and on the defensive end of the court. Wilken said she thinks the Cougars are ready for another good postseason.
“Losing Alicia (Book) hurt because she played so well last year and is still a big part of this basketball program,’’ Wilken said after breaking the Cougars scoring records. “:But we’ve had some others step up. Grace (Yaunches), Faye (Meissner), Breanne (Jansen) and Kaylee (Schrand), they’ve all picked up their games. It’s been a team effort.’’
Yaunches, one of the top ‘big game’ players in the metro-east has also had a good senior season, while Meissner, only a sophomore, has also been a key on both ends of the floor.
“Faye has been bothered by the shin splits and the only thing that really helps is to rest and so that’s what we did against Belleville East,” Rueter said. “She’s not going to be 100 percent with them, but we want her to be ready for next (this) week as best as she can.
“But I saw some good things the other night. Grace hit some shots, Breanne hit some shots and so did Abby Ratermann. If we’re going to be successful we have to be effective from the perimeter and we were on Thursday. I also thought Kaylee (Schrand) and Breanna (Beckmann) did some good things.”
But are the Cougars ready for another lengthy postseason run?
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Rueter said. “But on the court I like what I see. We’re doing some good things right now.
“I think the kids know what they have in front of them and they are excited and ready for the next few weeks.”
CLASS 2A GIRLS BASKETBALL POSTSEASON CAPSULES
Seeds: 1. Central, 4. Althoff, 5. Wesclin, 8. Roxana, 9. Carlyle
Could Surprise: Althoff
Synopsis: The Althoff Crusaders head into the postseason with an 8-17 record and had lost three of their last four games before taking on Centralia on Saturday. But the Crusaders are indeed a threat to the state’s top-ranked Class 2A team in Central, should the two teams meet for the regional title on Thursday. Althoff has shown tremendous progress under first-year coach Nick Knolhoff after a rough start and have two of the top Class 2A players in the metro-east in juniors Kyleigh Vaught (15.9 ppg.) and Maggie Reimer (11.1). Bookend post players Ellie Martz and Emily Myatt have also shown progress this season. Althoff lost to Central in the quarterfinals of the Highland Tournament (53-37). But Althoff does have wins over strong teams Teutopolis and O’Fallon., Fifth seed Wesclin (11-15) has a solid player in Mackenzie Kellogg (11.8) and one of the top 3-point shooters in the metro-east in Carly Haukapp.
Seeds: 2. Mater Dei, 3. Nashville, 6. Dupo, 7. Marquette, 10. Wood River
Favorite: Mater Dei
Could Surprise: Nashville
Synopsis: Despite being in the reloading mode at the beginning of the season, Mater Dei coach David Kohnen has his team playing its best heading into tournament play. The Knights (15-11), who annually play one of the most challenging schedules in southern Illinois, have won four of their last five games, including a 41-28 win over Nashville on Jan. 30. Mater Dei also defeated the third-seeded Hornettes 41-36 at the Mascoutah Holiday Tournament in December. Sharpshooting guard Kelsey Gerdes leads the Knights in scoring (11.3) and Logan Braundmeier also averages in double figures at 10.7 points per game. Nashville (17-8) was also in a transition period when the season began, but first year coach Doug Althoff has led the Hornettes to another River-to-River Conference championship. Also one of the youngest teams in the metro-east, Nashville has been led by sophomore Carly Stanowski and Mackenzie McFeron. Sixth seed Dupo has had a successful season with a 16-8 record and is led by Leia Campbell (13.8) and Megan Brown (10.1).
Note: The Red Bud Musketeers (9-15) are the tenth seed in the Sesser-Valier Regional and will take on eighth-seeded Sparta at 6 p.m. Monday.