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Matea Valley's Hayden Barnard dunks the ball against Neuqua Valley High School on Saturday, January 11, 2013 at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Getting his team ready to participate in the0 East Aurora Christmas Tournament after seeing his team get off to a 10-0 start, Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton was resolute about what the 2013 portion of his team’s schedule would bring.
The Wildcats entered 2013 at 14-0 after sweeping through the East Aurora Christmas Tournament.
“The schedule for the New Year is ridiculous,” Sutton wrote in an e-mail in mid-December. “Anything less than a fantastic performance by us could result in a 1-8 record during the upcoming nine-game schedule. Tough road ahead.”
Moving to 15-0 courtesy of a 58-48 win at Bolingbrook last Wednesday, Sutton’s premonition about his team’s road to start 2013 held true.
On Saturday Metea Valley handed Sutton’s charges their first defeat of the season. The Mustangs used nine 3-pointers to pull out a 55-49 win over the Wildcats, opening the door leading to an ultra-competitive Upstate Eight Valley race.
Metea Valley (10-6, 5-2 Upstate Eight Valley) moved to one game back of the Wildcats as the Mustangs still have designs on defending the division title from last season.
“I think they were (motivated) a little bit. We talked more about just getting back in the conference race with them,” said Metea Valley coach Bob Vozza, whose team travels to East Aurora on Friday. “We’re (sitting at) two losses and then they’re one (loss) now, so we talked about that. Getting right back into it and then looking at the sectional seeding. But I’m sure they were anxious to get back at them.” The Wildcats handed Metea Valley a 38-36 defeat in a Nov. 29 matchup.
No. 16 Neuqua Valley (15-1, 6-1 Upstate Eight Valley) enters its home game with Waubonsie Valley on Friday tied in the loss column with Bartlett, with Metea Valley a game back and Waubonsie Valley looking to close to within a game back in the division with a win Friday.
Starting December with a 59-46 road win at Waubonsie Valley, perhaps it’s best for the Wildcats to follow up their first defeat, to one of their District 204 rivals no less, immediately with a game against their other district rival.
“Definitely. It’s definitely (good to get Waubonsie Valley right away after losing to Metea Valley),” said Wildcats’ point guard Jabari Sandifer, who scored a game-high 19 points against Metea Valley last Saturday but managed just six in his team’s win at Waubonsie Valley Dec. 1. “We still have to (focus on the road ahead). The (Metea Valley) game is over.
“We just have to go out and focus on Waubonsie now. It’s gonna be a good game, too — just like (the Metea Valley game Saturday). It’s gonna go down to the wire, so we just have to prepare for them now.”
Meanwhile, Waubonsie Valley (13-6, 4-3 Upstate Eight Valley) tries to find some consistency behind their senior scoring duo of Jared Brownridge and Bryan Jefferson.
Brownridge notched a game-high 26 points in the 13-point loss at home to Neuqua Valley and Brownridge and Jefferson combined to score 56 points in the Warriors’ 74-66 home victory over Naperville Central last week.
Coming into the season with designs on winning the program’s first conference title since 2002-03, the reality is pretty cut-and-dried for the Warriors on Friday.
Split with Neuqua Valley by winning on the Wildcats’ floor and the Warriors can still maintain hope of ending that nine-year drought.
Otherwise, they may be relegated to second-place, at best, yet again.
“Hopefully, we can get a little help from other teams in conference, like Bartlett and Metea because I know they’re capable of beating Neuqua,” Jefferson said after recording a double-double against Naperville Central with 24 points and 13 rebounds. “We play like we did (against Naperville Central) the rest of the season, we can get those revenge wins back on Bartlett and Metea and Neuqua and we should put ourselves up there for the conference race.”