The Sweet 16 streak began when Jordan de los Reyes was a seventh-grader.|
Now a high school senior, the third-year starter believes those sectional championship game appearances will continue, even after she leaves the Moline girls' basketball program.
"The future looks bright," de los Reyes said ahead of the Maroons' season opener Saturday at state power Maine West.
"Our senior leadership is really strong this season, we're a little quicker as a team than in the past, and I'm excited to play with the sophomores we have up (on the varsity). I've never played with them before, but they're a really exciting group."
Those promising 10th-graders include 6-foot center Marley Patrick, who likely will start Saturday, plus another 5-10 inside presence in Hailey Cook.
Longtime coach Steve Ford's daughter Hannah also is part of the "Next Generation" for a program that has won 293 games and six Western Big 6 Conference crowns in her dad's 13 previous seasons.
Indeed, the only downer in another 20-win campaign for the Maroons last season was falling short of a fifth straight league title to match those five consecutive Sweet 16 postseason trips.
"Injuries kept us from realizing that goal," recalled de los Reyes, who missed time with mononucleosis and a fracture in a foot. "That's what's motivating us this year. We want to get the title back. We want to get back to that (Sweet 16) game again, too, and we want to get a step further this time."
Of course, that's easier said than done, coach Ford knows.
"The league is really balanced again," the veteran coach said. "I'm not counting anyone out. It's so wide open, and everybody's so close, anybody can win it.
"But the nice thing about our team is knowing we have a good group that gets along so well and works hard together. We also have some senior leadership. We have some shooting. We have some speed and some size. We have a good mix."
Besides de los Reyes at shooting guard and Patrick at center, the starting lineup includes Emily Knight at the point, and fellow returning seniors Morgan Gerard and Becky Lankford at the forward slots.
The Maroons' guard court also includes Ford's daughter and returning juniors Kristina Bozickovic and Ashley Lewis.
The other forwards are senior Ellie Peterson, who was slowed by a back injury last season; a fellow returner in junior Lily Eastman and classmates Jenna Lawrence and Katie Finch.
Peterson and Cook also will see time at center.
"I really believe we have more quality depth than we've ever had," coach Ford said. "In our scrimmage last Saturday, everything was even, and the competition for spots keeps pushing us to get better.
"Our first game we play a zone team, and then we go to Galesburg and that frenetic style they play. But we're so interchangeable and can throw so many different combinations out there, I think we can handle both ends of the spectrum.
"The only question is who we play because the matchup will determine how much some girls play compared to others."
Coach Ford said that versatility will take time to use correctly, though.
The three sophomores and two junior newcomers also will have an adjustment period to the who's who schedule the Maroons annually play as a member of Illinois' largest of four hoops classes.
"It will take awhile for us to mesh," Coach Ford cautioned. "It may take us all six games through Thanksgiving before we find out what we really have and how we're going to use it.
"But it's going to be interesting to see what this group can do, and as the last few years have shown, we've gotten better by playing the best (teams), so as long as we're patient and stay together and work hard, good things will happen."
Meet the Maroons
Coach: Steve Ford, 14th season (293-120).
Assistants: Russ Kooken, Steve Eckert, Tom DeVolder, Adrian Ritchie (sophomore), Rufus Greer (sophomore assistant), Tracy Sant Amour (freshman).
Last season: 20-13, 5-4 Western Big 6; lost to state-ranked Edwardsville, 59-30 in the Class 4A sectional championship for the fifth straight season.
Returning letterwinners: Srs: Morgan Gerard (5-8 F), Emily Knight (5-4 G), Ellie Peterson (5-10 F/C), Jordan de los Reyes (5-8 G), Becky Lankford (5-8 F); Jrs: Kristina Bozickovic (5-3 G), Lily Eastman (5-6 F), Ashley Lewis (5-5 G),
Newcomers: Jrs: Jenna Lawrence (5-5 F), Katie Finch (5-8 F), Sophs: Hannah Ford (5-6 G), Marley Patrick (6-0 C), Hailey Cook (5-10 C).
Schedule (all games 7 p.m. unless noted): Nov. 17 at Maine West, 3 p.m.; Nov. 20 at Galesburg; Nov. 23-24 at Morton Thanksgiving Tournament, TBA; Nov. 29 Alleman; Dec. 1 Cedar Rapids Washington, 2:30 p.m.; Dec. 6 Quincy; Dec. 8 at Peoria Notre Dame, 1 p.m.; Dec. 13 Rock Island; Dec. 13-14 & 22 at Sterling Holiday Tournament, TBA; Dec. 26-28 at Peoria Manual Holiday Tournament, TBA; Jan. 3 at United Township; Jan. 5 at Mississippi River Shootout at Black Hawk, TBA; Jan. 10 Galesburg, 7 p.m.; Jan. 17 at Alleman; Jan. 24 at Quincy; Jan. 26 Rockford Boylan, 2:30 p.m.; Jan. 31 at Rock Island; Feb. 2 Peoria High, 1 p.m.; Feb. 7 United Township, 7 p.m.
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