The top two seeds at the girls basketball Class 1A Dwight Regional know each other very well. The same can be said of the bottom two seeds.
The team in the middle, No. 3 Dwight, is hardly unknown to its guests.
Dwight does not, however, share a conference with anyone else at the regional the way No. 1 Newark and No. 2 Serena do the Little Ten and No. 4 Tri-Point and No. 5 Gardner-South Wilmington do the River Valley. GSW and Tri-Point are assured their third meeting of the season in Monday’s play-in game. They split a pair of regular-season games.
“Tri-Point is a very good team. You have to respect their style of play,” GSW coach Adam Leigh said. “They are a very up-tempo team that plays tough man defense. I would expect a close game on Monday night.”
There is no guarantee that Newark and Serena will meet for a third time this season; both would have to win semifinal games to make it happen. Newark defeated Serena, 45-40, on Dec. 9 on its way to an 8-0 conference season. Serena got revenge in the conference tournament championship game, defeating Newark, 47-46.
“They hit a shot against us the last time and it left a sour taste in our mouths, and the girls have really been working hard to get themselves in a position to have that chance to possibly play them again,” Newark coach Brian Holman said. “They have two of the best players [Ashante Witter and Demi Witter] not only in the conference but in the entire area, so they’re a tough matchup for anyone.”
Dwight played two of the teams in the regional this season. It lost 59-32 to Serena – which it will face in a regional semifinal Wednesday – at the Momence Holiday Tournament, but was a 48-38 winner over GSW.
Newark is 19-6 overall heading into its final regular-season game today against Aurora Central. As of the beginning of the month, freshman post Jasmine Mitchell was Newark’s leading scorer (11 points a game) and second-leading rebounder (5.9 a game). Four other players – Rachel Lape, Nicole Lawrence, Kelsea Zitt and Kristine Zitt – were averaging at least 5.7 points a game.
“I think our team is playing well overall. We had a bad start to the championship game and were able to execute pretty well from there on out,” Holman said. “We’ve really been working on fundamentals in practice, and I think the girls are starting to click like they should be at this time of the year.”
Now 9-14 overall, GSW will end its regular season Saturday with a make-up game against Illinois Lutheran. The Panthers are led by Lexi Posing (8.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, two assists, 2.2 steals a game) and Breann Fisher (6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, two steals a game).
Leigh said avoiding turnovers and shooting well will be key to a win Monday. Advance and the Panthers would get another shot at Newark, which beat them, 62-14, this past Tuesday.
“Newark played an extended 2-3 zone against us that was highly effective against our offenses. The girls for Newark are excellent at anticipating lazy passes and almost always get a quick bucket in transition from a turnover,” Leigh said. “If we get the chance to play against Newark, we will try to get a lot more movement into our offense to try and keep Newark off balance. Hopefully we can limit the amount of time that Newark has with the ball and keep the game close.”