A great regular season ended Saturday. The state tournament is on.
Without further adieu, here is a deeper look at the Class 3A sectionals.
Top four seeds: Naperville North, Plainfield North, Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley
Regional hosts: Bolingbrook, Naperville North, Metea Valley, Oswego
Team to beat: Naperville North
Top contender: Waubonsie Valley
Teams ranked in Sun-Times' top 20: Naperville North (1), Plainfield North (3), Waubonsie Valley (4), Neuqua Valley (6), Naperville Central (8), Lockport (13)
Best player: Ashley Handwork, Plainfield North
Overview: Defending state champion Naperville North has lost one game, on penalty kicks, the last two years. They have the state's top 1-2 combination with Zoe Swift and sophomore Abbie Boswell. Waubonsie Valley is on a roll. Pepsi Showdown runner-up Plainfield North features Handwork, who has scored 34 goals this year. Lockport has won nine in a row.
Top seeds: Buffalo Grove, Carmel, Hersey, Prospect
Regional hosts: Hersey, Fremd, Libertyville, Warren
Team to beat: Buffalo Grove
Top contender: Hersey
Teams ranked in Sun-Times' top 20: Buffalo Grove (2), Carmel (10), Hersey (12), Glenbrook South (15), Fremd (20)
Best player: Kelli Zickert, Buffalo Grove
Overview: Rates with Bolingbrook as the deepest sectional. Buffalo Grove's dream season has hit a bit of a detour, with the Bison ending regular season with consecutive losses. Still, Kelli Zickert has been magical. Hersey handed No. 2 seed Carmel its only loss. Glenbrook South, fourth last year, is riding a hot streak. The team to watch is No. 20 Fremd, regional hosts and riding an 8-2-1 streak over its last 11 games.
Top seeds: Loyola, New Trier, Lane, Maine South
Regional hosts: Loyola, Maine South, Evanston, St. Ignatius
Team to beat: Loyola
Top contender: Lane
Darkhorse: St. Ignatius
Teams ranked in Sun-Times' top 20: Loyola (7), Lane (18)
Best player: Corey Burns, Loyola
Overview: Loyola owns a 3-0 victory over No. 2 seed, the sectional host Trevians. Recent history, like last year, suggests that does not necessarily predict future results. New Trier needs to relocate scoring punch. Public League champion Lane has a great 1-2 combination in Jasmin Carrera and Sofia Pavon.
Top seeds: Hinsdale Central, Lyons, York, Benet
Regional hosts: Lyons, York, Downers South, Wheaton North
Team to beat: Hinsdale Central
Top contender: Lyons
Darkhorse: Wheaton Warrenville South
Teams ranked in Sun-Times' top 20: Hinsdale Central (9), York (14), Lyons (17), Benet (19)
Best player: Ari Kowalski, Lyons
Comment: By dint of home field advantage, Red Devils rate a slight edge over West Suburban Silver rivals York and Lyons. Hinsdale Central have entire lineup back from last year's sectional champions. Benet won a sectional in Class 2A. With sophomore star Alyssa Kovatchis back, York is the other team to reckon with.
Top seeds: Sandburg, Andrew, Lincoln-Way North, Stagg
Regional hosts: Sandburg, L-W North, Marist, Argo
Team to beat: Sandburg
Top contender: Andrew
Teams ranked in Sun-Times' top 20: None
Best player: Morgan Manzke, Sandburg
Overview: In some respects, the most wide open of the sectionals. It has just as many questions as answers. Sandburg has played the toughest schedule of the top tier programs. Two sleepers to watch are No. 3 seed Lincoln-Way North and Homewood-Flossmoor.
Top seeds: St. Charles North, St. Charles East, Batavia, Conant
Regional hosts: Conant, Lake Park, Bartlett, DeKalb
Team to beat: St. Charles North
Top contender: Conant
Teams ranked in Sun-Times' top 20: St. Charles North (5)
Best player: Alex Gage, St. Charles North
Comment: Defending Class 3A state-runner-up St. Charles North is the overwhelming favorite, having already beaten five of the top seven seeds. With sophomore star Leah Celarek fully recovered from her knee injury, always dangerous Conant is the top threat. Watch out for Geneva, a team better than its record.
The sectionals at Jacobs and Collinsville have been broken into four sub-regionals. Barrington, a regional host, is the team to beat. The Fillies, behind senior star Molly Pfeiffer and emerging sophomore Jenna Szczesny, just captured the Mid-Suburban Soccer cup. They have won five consecutive sectionals, the most of any current program. With star Abby Reed, Boylan is a clear second-choice. At Collinsville, Minooka is the top seed of the Joliet Central regional.