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Newark girls basketball coach Dale Skelton admits he is, by nature, a skeptical guy as a coach.
But after the Norsemen wrapped up a 26-1 regular season with a 42-36 win over Class 3A Aurora Central Catholic Saturday, giving Newark 21 straight wins, even he was excited about what the postseason will bring.
Newark opens the Class 1A playoffs with a 6 p.m. date Wednesday against either Earlville or LaMoille at the Serena Regional.
“They have been very consistent, proven me wrong several times,” Skelton said of his senior-led group. “They’ve been very consistent with what they do. Very versatile on the floor, we have an inside game, an outside game. We can go fast or slow. They’ve been a lot of fun to coach.”
Newark starts five seniors, with guard Lauren Tollefson and forward Taylor Krug the only players averaging over double figures in points at just over 10 apiece. The Norsemen like to spread it around and playing together for so long has given them the confidence to not worry where the scoring is coming from.
“It definitely has been the year (we’ve been waiting for),” senior Abbey Akre said. “We’ve always wanted it in previous years, but this year we’re more experienced and we’re a really close-knit group. I think that helps a lot because we have the chemistry and we just know where people will be. That, and it’s also a product of working our butts off over the summer, coming in and shooting a lot of days. Coach always has the gym open for us and a lot of us were very dedicated to it over the summer.”
That dedication has shone through on the court. Newark lost to Byron on Dec. 3 and has not lost since, a streak of 21 games heading into the postseason.
But the Norsemen have not won a regional title with this senior class in the program, so Skelton is taking nothing for granted.
“I’ll just be tickled if we can get a regional,” Skelton said. “It’s eluded us the last three years and I’m ready to get another one in our trophy case. We’re going to really focus on winning that regional. Whatever happens, we’ll be prepared down the road.”
The regional title game will likely be against Serena on Serena’s homecourt. If Newark can win that, the state’s second-ranked Class 1A team, Annawan, could be waiting at Illinois Valley College in the sectional. Newark is currently ranked seventh.
Akre admits it’s hard not to look at what lies ahead down the road, but she and her teammates are trying their best to stay focused.
“We definitely catch ourselves thinking ahead and coach always catches us on it and he gives us motivation and pep talks and tells us to play it game by game,” Akre said. “We can’t go out there and stub our toe on something.”
Hinckley-Big Rock (15-12) hosts a regional and the Royals are the top seed. The Royals host the Paw Paw/Mooseheart winner Tuesday at 6 p.m. They too feed into the Illinois Valley College Sectional if they can survive the regional.
In Class 2A, Aurora Christian is the top seed at the Wilmington Regional, and the Eagles go into the postseason on a high note. The Eagles needed to win their last three Suburban Christian Gold games to win a share of the conference title and they did just that, knocking off St. Francis and Immaculate Conception before Saturday’s 48-41 win over Wheaton Academy.
Aurora Christian enters the postseason with a program-record 17 wins. The Eagles play the Wilmington/Reed-Custer winner at Wilmington at 6 p.m. Wednesday.