Chris Mennig rolled the dice.
Many high school coaches err on the side of caution in the days leading up to the start of postseason play. If regionals are scheduled to start on a Tuesday, they avoid games on Saturday or Monday, preferring to have a rested team and the additional practice time for attention to last-minute details.
Mennig, the coach of the state’s top-ranked Class 2A girls’ basketball team, went against those odds, taking his team on the road last Saturday against a 3A opponent (Mount Zion) and playing a 4A foe (Mother McAuley) at home on Monday.
The Sabers won both of those games and took a 16-game winning streak into postseason play.
“It’s a tough line for coaches,” Mennig said. “You don’t want to risk injury, but, ultimately, if it’s in the cards that a kid is supposed to be hurt, it’s going to happen.”
Monday’s game marked the return of STM freshman reserve Madison McCoy. During her brief appearance in the third quarter, she reinjured a knee. Mennig said, “I’m not optimistic” that she will be available for the regional.
Centennial is in a similar situation ahead of the start of next week’s Class 3A regional, which it is hosting. The Chargers have two unplayed and unscheduled Big 12 Conference games, but they will likely not make up the contests against Bloomington or Decatur MacArthur.
“We’ve been playing a lot of games, and it has been hectic,” Chargers coach Jessi Beachey said. “Having that time to focus in on what we want to do in the regionals and turn the page is important. Right now, we’re focused on conference.
“After Thursday, we’ll have our focus just on regionals. It’s good for us to change the pace and focus on our next goal.”
Mennig believes the opportunity to play quality opponents late in the season helps create positive momentum entering the playoffs.
“Our programs play an aggressive style, and my practices and schedule are not any different,” he said. “You can’t be worried and deprive them of these opportunities.
“Last year, our motto was ‘Win the day,’ and this year, it’s ‘Rise to the occasion,’ ” Mennig said.
He uses the rigorous scheduling as a way to challenge his players. The more spectators in the stands, the better.
“We tell them, ‘They’re here to watch one team. Don’t let them down. Embrace that,’ ” Mennig said.
The Sabers played in the 2A state championship game last year and have been top-ranked this season in every state poll.
Talented players help make the school’s lofty goals attainable, but there are other variables that come into play.
“It takes a little luck and for the stars to align to play for a state title,” Mennig said.
Other schools from area conferences are in the same quandary as Centennial. In the Little Okaw Valley Conference, Arcola and Shiloh split two regular season meetings (one coming in the LOVC tournament), but the game designated as the conference game was postponed by weather and not rescheduled.
Arcola and Shiloh are 6-0 in LOVC games and will be declared co-champions.
In the Vermilion Valley, some schools (such as Chrisman) wound up playing nine of 13 scheduled league games.
For schools unwilling to play games right up until the regional begins, late-season postponements leave few options for getting all of the scheduled games played.
Based on losses, Centennial will be declared the Big 12 champ if it wins Thursday at home against Decatur Eisenhower. On one hand, it’s a logical move because the only team with two losses (Normal West) is one that Centennial defeated twice.
On the other hand, folks who believe “any team can beat another on a given night,” wonder what would happen if the Chargers played — and lost to — both Big 12 teams that they didn’t get to play a second time.
Some would go as far as to say conference championships in which not all games were played by the first-place team deserve the Roger Maris treatment and deserve an asterisk.
The IHSA has a seldom-used provision that allows schools to make up regular season games after they’ve been eliminated from the tournament series, as long as the games are completed before the state championship game for its class.