Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2013, 9:31 pm

Bravettes' state push resumes tonight against once-beaten Newark

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By Terry Duckett,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Annawan's Celina VanHyfte spins around for a short lay-up as Mercer County's Kimi Nelson defends during first half action in Annawan during Monday nights Lincoln Trail girls basketball conference tournament. The Lady Braves took the win.
Celina VanHyfte said it best after the Annawan girls' basketball team's 75-59 regional-clinching victory over Wethersfield last Thursday.

"We're very excited about the next game,'' said the Bravettes' 6-foot junior center. "We're getting our goals set now, and we're focusing on our new goal, which is winning sectionals.''

The state's second-ranked Class 1A team gets to pursue its next set of goals starting tonight at 7:30 at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby. Annawan puts its 26-2 record up against a Newark squad that has won 28 of 29 games in the second of two sectional semifinals.

And while state is undoubtedly at the head of the Bravettes' collective bucket list after last year, when they won the program's first sectional title in 34 years but lost by a 3-pointer to LeRoy in the Bloomington Super-Sectional, the focus is squarely on tonight.

"We don't want to look ahead at all,'' said Annawan junior forward Megan Foes. "We're just going to keep working at it.''

Having broken down film of the Lady Norsemen's lone loss of the season -- to 2A sectional semifinalist Byron -- Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz sees encouraging signs going up against a team that has won 23 games in a row. Led by Lauren Tollefson's 27 points, Newark topped Serena 49-36 to win its first regional title since 2009.

"Byron has a lot of height and good guard play like we do, and they beat Newark by 17,'' said Burkiewicz, whose club takes a 13-game winning streak into the sectional round. "Our girls feel confident now; they're focused on knowing that someone will need to bring a really big effort to beat us, not what bad things can happen. They're focused on playing their best basketball now.''

After the Bravettes' two regional wins last week on their home floor earned them their fourth straight regional crown and their fifth title in six years, Burkiewicz believes they are doing exactly that.

"I think this is probably the best we've ever looked going into the postseason,'' he said. "We have only one loss to a 1A team in the last two years, and that was against LeRoy. We've got that mindset that we want to make someone come to beat us, not beat ourselves.''

Having won 56 of 60 games over the last two seasons, the only thing missing from the Bravettes' resume is a state-tournament trophy. But like his players, Burkiewicz also knows the old saying about one not counting their chickens until they're hatched.

"It's been a lot of fun the last two years,'' he said. "The only thing missing is a trip to state. We want to get there, but we know to take it one step at a time and just continue to win. These kids are living in the moment.''