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Pat McInerney (32) of Benet Academy drives as Chandler Thomas of West Aurora defends. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Given the strengths of their respective campaigns coming into the IHSA releasing seeds and pairings for both Class 3A and 4A on Feb. 7, it was no surprise Benet and Neuqua Valley were handed high seeds.
By virtue of Benet and Neuqua Valley being seeded second and third, respectively, in the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional, the Naperville-area owns two of the top three seeds in a sectional for the first time since 2008-09, when Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central headlined the Oswego East Sectional.
Benet (21-4) enters this week’s play against Wheaton Academy and Marist in the midst of playing one of the most arduous schedules in the state.
Joining Benet and Neuqua Valley to round the list of the sectional’s top four seeds were top-seeded Oswego and fourth-seeded West Aurora, which lost to Benet on Feb. 2, 62-50.
Hosting one of the four regionals, along with Batavia, Oswego East and Wheaton Warrenville South, Benet will open its postseason play at home on Feb. 26 opposite either No. 15 Plainfield North or No. 18 Downers Grove North.
“Not at all surprised. We had our opportunities. We had opportunities to win a few more games and we weren’t able to do it, so I don’t worry as much about the seeds,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “I think seeding is obviously a … I guess it’s important but really what’s more important is how you’re playing at the time of the tournament.
“From our past experience, we won the sectional as a three seed and we didn’t win it as a one seed. So I think seeding, obviously seeding is important, but I don’t think it’s as big a deal as it’s made out to be.”
The Redwings could very well get a third meeting with Naperville Central, with which it has split its previous two meetings with, or possibly a second game with Naperville North come March 1.
Meanwhile, Neuqua Valley (23-2) finished the weekend with an outright Upstate Eight Valley title in its possession after beating South Elgin on Saturday.
Provided the Wildcats win their postseason opener on Feb. 26 against Oswego East or Hinsdale South, a third meeting with one of its fellow District 204 compatriots, Waubonsie Valley (18-7) or Metea Valley (15-9), would be awaiting come March 1.
Neuqua Valley swept Waubonsie Valley in the regular season, while Metea Valley handed it its first loss, a 55-49 defeat on Jan. 12.
“We are very excited to be part of this regional. It is like a conference tournament. It can’t get better than this,” Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton wrote in an e-mail. “Any of the three District 204 schools could win the sectional. Not bad at all.”
Handed the seventh seed on Thursday, Naperville Central (15-8) faces the prospect of a third meeting with a DuPage Valley Conference foe for the third time in four years, provided 10th-seeded Naperville North (17-7) beats Romeoville on Feb. 25.
Admitting after his team dispatched of Glenbard North on Friday, courtesy of an 85-point night, that he wasn’t necessarily pleased with where his team was seeded, Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer acknowledged his team has been there before.
“It’s happened before to us, even back when Drew (Crawford) was a senior (in 2008-09). We had to beat West Aurora three times to win a regional, so now we’re gonna have to beat ... I don’t know if it’s the third time, but we’re gonna play … if we do play Naperville North (in a regional semifinal), then we play Benet for a third time,” Kramer said. “So it’s the same situation. We beat (Benet). (Benet) beat us. Naperville North, we beat them the first time (we played them), depending on what happens this Saturday. But it’s (tough). We thought we were gonna get the six seed. We were pretty for sure. You know, I asked for a five or six. We thought we were gonna get the six seed.”
While Kramer wasn’t happy with the Redhawks’ seeding, Naperville North fell right within the range its coach, Jeff Powers, thought it would.
“I think, overall, it’s just a really, really tough regional for everybody,” Powers said. “But I don’t know if this was the perfect draw for us or not.”
No one knows what the future holds, but all six coaches, to a man, would likely readily admit that, all in all, that week of regional play around Naperville bodes to be very, very interesting and very, very exciting at the same time.