The fact the Intercity champion Central Catholic High School girls basketball team has dropped two of its past three games might be interpreted as a sign Intercity hoops as a whole are in decline.
Not so, say the coaches who have scheduled tough opponents early to prepare for later success.
Here is a glance at each team.
"We've lost to two quality teams," said Saints coach Debbie Coffman, whose 5-2 squad fell to No. 15-state ranked Carthage and Tolono Unity. "We put them on the schedule for a reason, to have kids get prepared for the end of the season."
Plus, the two setbacks included some mitigating circumstances. Stacey Miller and Colleen Sprague had the flu during the Tolono Unity game. Miller leads the team in scoring with just more than 10 points per game along with Jessi Kohn.
A theme in each loss was its half-court nature.
"We've really worked on what to do if we get in a half-court game, how we can score and contribute," Coffman said. "The kids are willing to learn. They've got the will and drive and want to get better every day so that is great."
It won't hurt that freshman Jacqui Reinhart is back from a knee injury.
"She had a great summer for us," said Coffman, whose team hosts Eureka tonight.
A three-game winning streak has Coach Bob Morris feeling good about his 4-2 Pioneers.
"The positive part is we are heading in the right direction," he said. "I don't feel we've leveled off or have gone backwards."
Six-foot-one senior Alisa Ndorongo has taken a big step forward to become the team's leading scorer at 10.5 points per game. Krissa Kaisner adds 9.3 followed by Natalie Larson (7.0) and Tonya Brown (5.3).
"The girls coming in off the bench are giving us quality minutes," added Morris, who is encouraged by the contributions of Laura Bullinger, Jenna Whikehart, Kyla Yeagle, Ashley Brondell and Molly Kaisner.
Among the Pioneers' faults is that they are too nice.
"We need to continue to work on being more aggressive," said Morris, whose team hosts Pontiac tonight. "That is something we work on daily with drills in practice."
Even though the Purple Raiders have lost two of their past three games, Coach Sondra Vogel isn't panicking.
"We're just young and we're still jelling together," she said. "I start three seniors, but they don't have a ton of varsity experience."
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Plus the most recent losses have come against Metamora and Morton, both strong teams.
"This early strength of schedule will only help us down the road," said Vogel, whose team is on the road tonight at Lincoln.
Juniors Kristin Petrinec and Kelly Carter are on the watch list of college recruiters. An Illinois-Chicago scout saw Petrinec post a double-double against Morton the same night Carter scored a career-high 21.
The 6-2 Petrinec is averaging 12.6 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Butler and Eastern Illinois have also shown interest in her while IUPUI is following Carter.
Back-to-back losses to perennial state power Chicago Marshall and Metamora have shown the 3-5 Ironmen what they need to work on.
"We're working on slowing down our offense," said Coach David Feeney. "We sometimes get going too fast."
Haste can lead to turnovers.
"We're working on ballhandling and ball security at all positions," Feeney said. "We have a smaller margin of error this year (than last year's 26-5 team)."
Eastern Michigan recruit Emily Hanley leads the Ironmen with 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
"She can open things up for us," Feeney said. "She can help us get other kids involved. Other teams are going to key on her. We would if we played ourselves."
The schedule NCHS has played is what it needed.
"It's made our kids tougher," Feeney said.
The Wildcats (1-6) got their first victory Saturday, downing Peoria Manual to confirm the improvement Coach Steve Price has seen in practice.
The upgrades have included field goal shooting and rebounding
"We were down in the 30 percent range and now we're at 43 percent," he said. "That is helping us. We struggled in the Intercity Tournament with that. We've outrebounded our last two opponents.
"I've been real pleased with our effort and hustle. We are trying to be more consistent."
Allison Shelton leads the Wildcats with 10.2 points and 3.0 assists per game. Other leaders are Michelle Henderson (6.0 rebounds) and Cymone Allen (2.7 steals).
West may pick up a forfeit win for tonight's home game with Decatur MacArthur because of a teachers' strike.