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Hinckley-Big Rock girls basketball looks to reclaim top spot in tourney

LEFT: Hiawatha’s Dani Clark; MIDDLE: Indian Creek’s Kate Thuestad; RIGHT: Hinckley-Big Rock’s Jacqueline Madden
LEFT: Hiawatha’s Dani Clark; MIDDLE: Indian Creek’s Kate Thuestad; RIGHT: Hinckley-Big Rock’s Jacqueline Madden

It wasn’t long ago when Hinckley-Big Rock dominated the Little Ten Conference Tournament.

The Royals took home the tourney title from 2007 to 11, a stretch which also included a regional championship each season and state titles in 2009 and 2010. Quite simply, H-BR was the class of the Little Ten.

Last season, the Royals were taken off their pedestal, losing, 49-48, to Serena in overtime in the semifinals down in Earlville, and ended up taking fourth place.

This year, H-BR features a different look, without graduated stalwarts Kaitlin Phillips and Katie Hollis. The Royals are playing .500 ball at 10-10 and have gone 5-2 in conference play. Though H-BR has struggled at times with a younger team, the Royals are still the No. 3 seed in this year’s conference tournament, which runs today through Friday. All games will be played at Serena, with the exception of the Thursday consolation games, which will be at Indian Creek.

“We’ve had some good stretches. I think most people would agree, when we play well, we’re a pretty good basketball team,” said H-BR coach Greg Burks, who has three Little Ten Tournament titles to his name. “Unfortunately, we’ve had some stretches when we don’t play well and we haven’t looked all that great.”

The Royals open tourney play tonight at 8 p.m. against No. 6 Paw Paw. With a victory, H-BR could have a matchup with second-seeded Serena, who opens against No. 7 Hiawatha tonight at 6:30 p.m., in the semifinals. The Huskers defeated the Royals, 47-31, Thursday night. The Royals’ other conference loss came against top-seeded Newark.

Coming into the year, H-BR was sort of an unknown team. Burks feels like his team is playing better than it was at the start of the season, partly due to his team’s balanced scoring.

The Royals don’t have someone who’s going to put up double-digit points every game. Instead, Burks has seen players like Abbie Tosch, Karrigan Cowan and Bridgette Edmeier as forces on the inside, and Jacqueline Madden and Lauren Paver score in transition.

“We’ve had good balance in our scoring, which has been nice to see. We’ve had some people step into different roles,” Burks said. “We’re starting to understand the game a little better. Starting to understand the effort level that it takes to compete night in and night out at the level we want to.”

While H-BR has been used to going deep in the LTC Tournament, it’s been the opposite for Hiawatha. But last season the Hawks were able to win the consolation title, a preview to its first-ever regional championship.

Hiawatha coach Franz Schumacher feels his team is a tough out, when it executes. However, the Hawks have had their share of blown fourth-quarter leads this season.

This year, Schumacher is hoping to get off to a good start in tournament play.

“We need to get that first win that we haven’t had in quite a while in that tournament,” he said. “We’re going to be ready. We’re going to get them geared up and ready to go.”

Top-seeded Newark, who’s currently 17-1 and 7-0 in the Little Ten regular season, awaits the winner of No. 4 Indian Creek and No. 5 Somonauk, who face off Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Timberwolves have split with the Bobcats this year.

Should Indian Creek get past Somonauk, the T’Wolves will have their hands full with Newark.

“I think any other team would have to play a terrific game to beat Newark,” Indian Creek coach Paul Muchmore said. “They’d have to have everything firing on all cylinders. I think they’re just a little cut above everybody else.”

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