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Neuqua Valley's Bryce Menendez eyes a basket past Metea Valley's Katie Lawrence during the Class 4A Metea Valley Regional title game at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, Ill., on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT:
After Neuqua Valley was handed its third loss of the season by Geneva last Friday, the Wildcats had a little talk amongst themselves.
“They said that our approach has to be a little bit different for the playoffs, otherwise it may be a short season,” Neuqua coach Mike Williams said.
He said the vibe on the bus, in the locker room and during warmups has been a bit different this week, more subdued. And it has served his team well.
The Wildcats followed up Tuesday’s dominating win over Lockport with a 62-44 victory over Metea Valley to win the Class 4A Metea Valley Regional title. It is the third time Neuqua has beaten Metea this season, and it sets up a rematch of the Wildcats’ first loss of the season to Naperville Central in Tuesday’s Class 4A Oswego Sectional semifinal.
“We beat them twice, why couldn’t we beat them three times?,” Neuqua junior Najee Smith asked. “We just came out playing strong. In the locker room, we all got pumped up because we knew we couldn’t come out flat today.”
Neuqua (26-3) used its depth to jump out to a 19-9 lead in the opening seconds of the second quarter. Kai Moon hit a three-pointer to end the first quarter and Lauren Deveikis drilled a three to start the second, both off the bench, to establish that 10-point cushion.
“We’re definitely blessed to have a deep bench,” Smith said. “The girls that come off the bench, I could not ask them to do any better.”
The contributions across the board were needed in the first half, thanks to the dominant performance put on by Metea senior Lori Obendorf. She said after Tuesday’s win over Oswego that she did not want her career to end Friday, and she showed it with her play. She scored 18 of her game-high 24 points in the first half and added 15 rebounds and four blocked shots in her final game in a Mustang uniform.
“I think of all of them, being a senior, she didn’t want it to end,” Metea coach Kris Kalivas said. “She rose to that challenge of leaving everything out there tonight. We can’t ask her to do it all. Very proud of everything she’s done for us this year. She’s had an incredible four years here and I’m just glad I had the opportunity to coach her.”
Decimated by injuries, the Mustangs (22-7) pretty much went with the starting five all night long. Junior Jenny Voytell added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Metea. But Neuqua went eight deep all night and shot as well from the outside as a team, 6-for-9 from three-point range, as it has all season. Smith went 3-for-4 from the arc en route to a team-high 17 points. Allison Hedrick added 11 points for Neuqua.
“I was in a little bit of a funk, but it’s back,” Smith said of her shot. “I could feel the juices flowing.”
Metea cut it to nine at the end of the third, but that was the closest the Mustangs got the rest of the way.
Neuqua now has a chance to avenge the one-point loss to Naperville Central it suffered in the finals of the Oswego tournament in December. Ironically, the game will be played on the same floor.
“We want revenge,” Smith said. “We’re coming out hard. It’s kind of weird, playing at Oswego again. Hopefully the outcome is in our favor.”