Small-school programs will start their respective postseason runs next week, with regional quarterfinals slated for Monday, semifinals across Tuesday and Wednesday, and finals across Thursday and Friday. Preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS breaks down the chances for each area team to make waves in playoff action (records do not include regular-season games played this Friday or Saturday):
No. 1 Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin Blue Devils (26-5)
Players to watch: Sierra Bryant (Sr.); Ryley Cash (Sr.); Emily Meidel (Sr.).
Regular season: Knocking off Oakwood in the Vermilion County Tournament final for the first time in four consecutive matchups was big for the Blue Devils, who suffered two of their losses to Indiana foes.
Outlook: Meidel gives BHRA a good shot to win pretty much any game it’s in, and Bryant has come on strong in various facets. The favorite to take this regional.
No. 4 Unity Rockets (19-9)
Players to watch: Elyce Knudsen (Sr.); Chloee Reed (Jr.); Maddie Reed (Soph.).
Regular season: Knudsen set the all-time Unity basketball scoring record Monday, and the Rockets hold quality victories over Villa Grove/Heritage, St. Joseph-Ogden, Olympia and Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
Outlook: Unity will go as far as Knudsen takes it. Rockets’ 48-36 loss to BHRA on Dec. 26 could weigh heavily.
No. 5 Oakwood Comets (22-6)
Players to watch: Aaliyah Denius (Jr.); Aubrey Wells (Sr.); Katelyn Young (Sr.).
Regular season: Victories versus Tri-County and BHRA great, losses to Salt Fork and Milford not as positive, but a 3-1 State Farm Holiday Classic effort was strong.
Outlook: Young, a Murray State signee, can change any game’s complexion with her size and athleticism. Oakwood is the regional dark horse.
No. 8 Monticello Sages (11-17)
Players to watch: Jayna Burger (Sr.); Cloe Clark (Sr.); Renni Fultz (Soph.).
Regular season: Sages played close with Unity, Villa Grove/Heritage, St. Teresa, St. Joseph-Ogden and Unity, topped Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Tuscola.
Outlook: Closing out defining wins hasn’t been easy in 2020, and the Sages will need at least a couple to push ahead.
No. 11 Westville Tigers (7-22)
Players to watch: Hadley Cox (Soph.); Hunter Lange (Sr.); Daphne Williamson (Sr.).
Regular season: Four of Westville’s triumphs have occurred since the calendar turned in 2020, before which it was 3-13.
Outlook: The Tigers’ top win came against a rival with six victories on the season, so Westville will need a hot run in this loaded regional.
No. 4 Sullivan Redskins (21-6)
Players to watch: Lilly Null (Soph.); Avery Still (Sr.); Emily White (Jr.).
Regular season: Sullivan contested a loaded schedule, securing wins over Mattoon, Altamont and St. Teresa. Five of its six losses were by fewer than 10 points.
Outlook: Undefeated No. 1 seed Paris also occupies this regional and has bulldozed most of its opponents. The Redskins will face a stiff test to win their own event.
St. Joseph-Ogden Regional
No. 2 St. Joseph-Ogden Spartans (19-10)
Players to watch: Ella Armstrong (Soph.); Katie Cramer (Sr.); Hannah Dukeman (Sr.).
Regular season: SJ-O played a brutal schedule and lost each of its last four, also went 3-1 in the State Farm Holiday Classic.
Outlook: Dukeman’s late return from wrist surgery could mean big things for the Spartans if the Ball State softball signee is able to get back into game shape. SJ-O still can win this regional regardless.
No. 3 Villa Grove/Heritage Blue Devils (24-5)
Players to watch: Kyleigh Block (Jr.); Aliya Holloman (Sr.); Jordyn Ray (Sr.).
Regular season: Two of VG/H’s defeats came at the hands of 1A Tri-County and another against an Indiana school, but one also happened courtesy the regional host.
Outlook: The Blue Devils possess a variety of weapons on both sides of the ball and can pile up points. That could make the difference when the week is over.
No. 6 Schlarman Hilltoppers (15-6)
Players to watch: Emma Bogen (Sr.); Capria Brown (Sr.); Tannah Ceader (Jr.).
Regular season: It took time for Schlarman to adjust after losing four senior starters and its head coach, but the two-time defending 1A state champs won 10 in a row prior to Friday’s game with Oakwood, including quality victories over Joliet Catholic and Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin.
Outlook: Overlook Schlarman at your own risk. Brown, a Dayton signee, leads a group that viably could win this regional.
No. 7 Tuscola Warriors (16-9)
Players to watch: Sophie Kremitzki (Soph.); Marissa Russo (Jr.); Brynn Tabeling (Jr.).
Regular season: Results have been uneven since an 8-3 start, but wins over Unity and Sullivan and close games with Tri-County, Villa Grove/Heritage, St. Joseph-Ogden and Paxton-Buckley-Loda show potential for this relatively young group.
Outlook: Tuscola’s underclassmen will need to continue playing older than their age in this gauntlet of a regional in order for a championship to be up for grabs.
No. 9 Clinton Maroons (17-14)
Players to watch: Mallory Cyrulik (Soph.); Kaitlyn Rauch (Soph.); Destiny Schlesinger (Sr.).
Regular season: Clinton has been just a few plays away from big wins against Tuscola, Sullivan and St. Teresa and also owns a solid victory over a strong Pana team.
Outlook: If Cyrulik gets rolling offensively, look out for the Maroons. They’re better than their record and could make noise.
No. 12 Georgetown-Ridge Farm Buffaloes (0-21)
Players to watch: Cheyanne Hasselbring (Sr.); Ashlee LaGrand (Sr.); Sheyenne Peterson (Sr.).
Regular season: G-RF was in search of a win entering Friday’s finale with Chrisman.
Outlook: Buffs had to go somewhere for postseason play, and it’s unlucky they were dropped in this daunting regional.
Hoopeston Area Regional
No. 1 Prairie Central Hawks (26-5)
Players to watch: Becca Conlisk (Sr.); Elly Haberkorn (Sr.); Madison Kinkade (Jr.).
Regular season: The Hawks own no bad losses, and only a 54-37 defeat against Pana is lopsided. A 5-0 season-opening Prairie Central Turkey Tournament got things started on the right foot.
Outlook: A group heavy on varsity experience and scoring options should, at the very least, secure a regional plaque.
No. 4 Watseka Warriors (21-8)
Players to watch: Kennedy McTaggart (Jr.); Kinzie Parsons (Jr.); Natalie Schroeder (Jr.).
Regular season: Late triumph over Paxton-Buckley-Loda has a one-senior club trending in right direction, as did a nine-game January win streak.
Outlook: Watseka offers a threat to Prairie Central’s title chances, especially if the Warriors rebound as they’re capable of.
No. 6 Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers (12-16)
Players to watch: Lexie Breymeyer (Jr.); Sadie Drayer (Sr.); Ali Watson (Jr.).
Regular season: Hoopeston Area lost six of its last seven to close the regular season but did play Watseka within eight points.
Outlook: Watson and Breymeyer can put up huge scoring and rebounding numbers, but they’ll need to be near-perfect for the Cornjerkers to contend.
No. 3 Paxton-Buckley-Loda Panthers (21-8)
Players to watch: Mackenzie Bruns (Sr.); Baylee Cosgrove (Jr.); Losa Suaava (Fr.).
Regular season: The Panthers split two games with Unity and lost a pair of close ones with St. Joseph-Ogden, but also knocked off Tuscola and Urbana.
Outlook: Both No. 2 Fieldcrest and No. 5 El Paso-Gridley will be stingy outs, so PBL must bring its A game to this field.
No. 10 Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Falcons (7-21)
Players to watch: Ryleigh Brown (Jr.); Hannah Hathaway (Sr.); Abby Spiller (Sr.).
Regular season: GCMS has fallen from its 2A regional title victory of the previous season, owning no win streaks in 2019-2020.
Outlook: Getting past No. 8 Pontiac is feasible, but hefty difficulty awaits past that regional quarterfinal game.
Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).