Right now, it's good to be an Annawan Bravette.|
The second-ranked Class 1A girls' basketball team in the state and the No. 1 seed at a regional tournament on their home floor, the Bravettes recently got an added boost when junior guard and Alleman transfer Cierra Davis, already declared eligible to compete for Annawan, was cleared medically to return to the court.
And, the competition Annawan (24-2) will face in its gym starting this evening at 6 will consist entirely of teams the Bravettes have faced before, during their runs to the Lincoln Trail Conference tournament and regular-season championships.
However, the pursuit of a fourth straight regional title and an encore to last winter's sectional-championship run begins right now for coach Jason Burkiewicz's squad against a 15-12, fourth-seeded ROWVA team that battled past Ridgewood in double overtime on Monday night and gave the Bravettes a battle in mid-December before a fast finish lifted Annawan to a 71-44 win.
"When you know you're going to play teams more than once, you save some things back and try to be ready to have something they haven't seen before,'' said Burkiewicz. "That was the case with Wethersfield last year. We played them three different times (including the Midland Sectional finals), and had three different game plans.
"Hopefully, we've held the best for last. All coaches do that when they know there's a chance to play each other again in the postseason. All these teams know a lot about each other, so we have to be ready to go.''
Besides continued production from junior center and All-Stater Celina VanHyfte (23 points, eight rebounds per game), Annawan also needs to keep getting steady contributions from the rest of its lineup. That's a group that consists of a junior trio of Megan Foes, Maddie Jackson and Paige Randall and VanHyfte's freshman sister Morgan, who has worked her way from reserve to starting guard.
"I think we're tough matchups for a lot of people as far as the defense we play,'' said Burkiewicz. "I think we're a much quicker team, for the most part. We just have to concentrate on what we're doing, execution-wise.''
Wethersfield's second-seeded Lady Geese (22-7) face perhaps an even more formidable postseason opener in tonight's second semifinal at 8.
Awaiting the Geese will be No. 3 Stark County (19-8), which only lost by six to the Bravettes in the LTC Tournament finals and then rolled past Wethersfield 57-39 en route to a second-place regular season finish. The Geese's bid to share second was dashed with a 64-50 loss at Annawan in both teams' LTC finale.
"We'll use that as motivation, trying to heal the wound from our Senior Night loss,'' Wethersfield coach Becky Ince said of the Lady Rebels. "The only way to heal it is to get a win, and to have it come at regional time would only make it more sweet. But we've got to play our best basketball.''
With high-scoring senior guard Sarah Hansen (23.5 points per game) augmented by the trio of seniors Aly Eastman and Kodi Hammer and junior point guard Kristen Parsons -- all of whom average between seven and nine points -- the Lady Geese know better than to think about playing Annawan until finishing up their business tonight.
"Stark County is a scary team to play your first time at regionals,'' said Ince. "This group knows what they did to us twice. We're going to stay focused on this game.''
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