Thursday night, I’ll be in Braidwood to watch the Coal City Coalers as they try to win their third tournament championship of this varsity girls basketball season.
The fourth tournament the Coalers will enter is the one that will mean the most. And it also is the one they’re least likely to win.
Coal City is having a fantastic season. Monday’s 43-28 win against Seneca was Coal City’s 20th of the season, and it has yet to lose. A win Thursday against Peotone will give the Coalers the championship at the Interstate Eight Conference Tournament. They’ve already won titles at the Beecher Ladycat Fall Classic and the Lisle Holiday Cage Classic.
Yet, when the postseason begins about a month from now, the Coalers won’t even be favored to make a sectional. They’re in the Class 3A Morris Regional. So is, among other teams, Joliet Catholic Academy, which is also undefeated. The Angels are ranked third in the state, in all classes, by the Chicago Tribune; they’re 13th in the nation in the Maxpreps Xcellent 25.
A team I saw last week, Providence, also is at the regional. Providence is good. Its 40-36 loss to a quality Class 4A team in Minooka dropped its record to 13-8, and it plays a loaded schedule. And to give you some idea how tough JCA is, it defeated Providence 70-31 when the two teams met earlier this month.
Coal City and Providence will get an idea how they stack up against one anther when they play next week.
The other two teams at the regional, Lincoln-Way West and Morris, also have played each other already this season. Lincoln-Way West defeated the Redskins 70-55 at the Ottawa Christmas Tournament.
Currently 8-11 overall, the Redskins will almost certainly enter the regional as the No. 5 seed. There are plenty of Class 3A regionals at which they wouldn’t be (based on seeds) the worst team; there are some, even, that they’d have an excellent shot to win. They’re getting a bad draw, certainly, but they’re not some team who is having otherwise realistic state dreams crushed by where the IHSA assigned it.
But for Coal City, and/or for JCA (and, you could argue, for Providence and Lincoln-Way West), that is the case. Only one of their seasons can extend as far as the Lincoln-Way West Sectional.
Coal City and JCA probably won’t be the only Class 3A teams to enter the postseason undefeated – if they’re even able to do so – and it’s not like they’re the consensus No. 1 and 2 teams in the state, but it’s a shame that they’ve got to run into each other so early.