HUNTLEY – Who knows what kind of motivational video Haley Ream will play for her teammates tonight.
The Huntley guard has spent the season browsing YouTube clips to find something that speaks to each situation, something that conveys the kind of attitude the Red Raiders will need to defeat whichever opponent they will face.
Given tonight’s stakes, the Raiders might only need to look within themselves. Huntley plays Streamwood at 7:30 p.m. for a shot at the Class 4A Rockford East Sectional championship, marking the first time in program history that the Raiders have been one of the last 16 teams remaining in the playoffs. Winning would give Huntley its first sectional championship.
Making history already is a significant motivator.
“This is a big deal, a much bigger deal than winning a regional,” said Ream, a three-year starter and force behind the Raiders’ 24-6 season and berth in the sectional final. “Just getting through the sectional semifinal was huge. So this feels great, but it will feel so much better if we can get the sectional title.”
Ream knows the heartache that comes with falling short of goals. She has seen, or been a part of, teams that didn’t respond well to adversity.
That’s part of the reason Ream knows they’ll be motivated, regardless of whether she finds that perfect clip or whether it really does come from within.
The Raiders dropped their final two games of the regular season to record their first losing streak. After each previous loss, the Raiders had rattled off as many as seven wins in a row before falling again. To see his players dig down and gut out a difficult regional semifinal victory against DeKalb on the heels of that losing streak, and then claim their fifth regional title in the last seven seasons, showed coach Steve Raethz the Raiders’ postseason potential.
“The kids are really dialed in,” Raethz said. “We’ve really handled ourselves well this postseason. We haven’t been too high or too low. The way we played Harlem (in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal) was very workman-like. I’ve just been very pleased with their poise and their attitude the entire way.”
It’s a unique cast of characters leading the charge, too. Ream, the only senior starter, and standout guard Sam Andrews, a junior two-year starter, are joined by a cadre of new varsity players and freshmen, including Andrews’ sister, Ali, a dynamic forward. That combination of experience and maturity often produces one of two things: folding under pressure or rising to the occasion.
Given its consistency this season, Huntley looks like the latter.
It comes from trusting one another, Sam Andrews said. It helps to have Ali in the post, someone whose moves Sam knows nearly as well as her own. They each average about 16 points a game. But the Raiders would struggle without freshman guard Kayla Barreto’s metronome-like precision in the backcourt and junior guard Bethany Zornow’s perimeter game. While Ream and Sam Andrews provide the seasoned experience and leadership, Barreto, Zornow, Ali Andrews and the Raiders’ bench fuel the momentum.
That continuity will help offset the challenges Streamwood presents, most notably Chicago State-bound Jessica Cerda. The Raiders beat the Sabres 54-42 during the Dundee-Crown Thanksgiving Tournament last November, but they understand that Streamwood has matured as well since then.
More motivation? Perhaps.
Still, Ream will find something to show the team during their pre-game ritual. They’ll supplement the clip with film of a tenacious Streamwood team with a penchant for transition ball and defenses that just don’t lapse. At some point, Ream and Sam Andrews will make a motivational speech of their own.
If they win, maybe the Raiders will post their own clip. Maybe another team searching for its program’s first sectional title will watch it.
Or maybe tonight, it won’t matter what YouTube video the players find. Huntley won’t need the extra motivation. Maybe tonight, the Raiders will find it within themselves.
“We were happy to be able to do this and our coaches deserve this too since they’ve never made it this far,” Ream said. “But winning it all would feel so amazing.”
• Maureen Lynch is a freelance sports writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @mo_lynch.