May the best team win

May 9—Championship performances. Disappointing endings. Thrilling finishes. The next three weeks will feature all those potential situations for area high school programs with IHSA postseason action taking control of the calendar. Here's a guide on who to watch for and what moments to take in:

Can three-time Big 12 long jump champion Noelle Hunt from Centennial earn a spot at state? How will Danville standout Nickiya Shields fare after winning the 100-meter hurdles, 300 hurdles and triple jump at last Friday's Big 12 Meet? How many athletes can Champaign Central send on to state after getting bumped up from Class 2A? We'll know the answers soon enough.

The host Sages haven't won a regional title since 2009. If Addison Finet and Co. want to end the drought, there's no better year than now. Third-seeded Monticello has won a school-record 20 matches and plays fifth-seeded St. Thomas More on this day in a regional semifinal match. A spot in the regional title game on May 14 against either No. 2 Bloomington Central Catholic or No. 6 Uni High awaits.

One athlete who won't need any introduction at O'Brien Stadium on the Eastern Illinois University campus in Charleston is Tuscola junior Lia Patterson. A state champion last year in the 200-meter dash and 300 hurdles, how Patterson fares will likely determine if Tuscola brings home a Class 1A state trophy for the third straight year. Watch out for Unity in Class 2A as the Rockets have registered plenty of big wins, individually and team-wise, this season.

A Big 12 girls' soccer team will win a Class 2A regional title. On paper, it'll be second-seeded Champaign Central squaring off against third-seeded Centennial at 5 p.m. on May 17. That is if Central can avoid an upset against eight-seeded Danville and Centennial can get past sixth-seeded Urbana in the two regional semifinal matches on May 14. Either way, one local program is heading to the Pleasant Plains Sectional semifinals on May 21.

St. Joseph-Ogden softball has not hoisted a regional plaque this decade. That's saying something since the Spartans have 36 regional championships to their name since 1982, but none since 2019. Perhaps the narrative changes this season, with SJ-O the No. 2 seed in a regional it will host on its new all-turf playing surface at Randy Wolken Field. The Spartans, powered by Southeast Missouri State signee Addy Martinie and pitcher Madison Stevens, get either seventh-seeded Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond or eighth-seeded Cumberland in a regional semifinal game on May 14. Win that and then a familiar Illini Prairie Conference foe will await in the regional title game at 11 a.m. on May 18: third-seeded Unity or fifth-seeded Monticello. Unity has won three straight regional titles and Monticello has beaten top area team Westville this season. Whoever wins this regional title will have earned it.

If Champaign Central adds a state trophy to its collection this season, it'll come from the Class 2A ranks and not 1A like last season. But even with the bump up to the biggest schools in the state, the Maroons still have a talented duo in Ezra Bernhard and Abel Vines that can hang with any player in the state. They'll have to get through a tough Normal Community Sectional on May 17-18 if they want to wind up in suburban Chicago just before Memorial Day. Centennial, paced by Jason Kim and Tyler Luchinski, and Uni High, led by Aryan Sachdev, are the likely favorites in 1A, with Centennial hosting the local sectional that also features area teams Danville, Mahomet-Seymour, St. Thomas More and Urbana vying for state berths.

How high reigning Class 3A high jump state champion Voldy Makabu from Centennial can go this postseason begins on May 15 when he and the rest of the Chargers compete in the Danville Sectional. In Class 1A, coach Phil Surprenant and his Salt Fork team are chasing its third consecutive state championship, with the Storm hosting a 1A sectional meet in Catlin on May 17 that features 14 other area programs. The sectional meets are all a buildup to the state meet. The action at O'Brien Stadium on the Eastern Illinois University campus in Charleston gets going with 1A prelims on May 23, 2A and 3A prelims on May 24 and then concludes with state finals in all three classes taking place on May 25. Make sure to bring sunscreen.

Looking for a big-school softball program to win a regional championship this season? Look no further than Champaign Central. The Maroons are having one of the best seasons in program history and sport a 15-10-1 record with a little more than a week left in the regular season. Central coach Mike Williams' team has earned a No. 3 seed in the postseason and will open up against sixth-seeded Mahomet-Seymour on the Bulldogs' home field on May 22 in a regional semifinal game. Get past M-S and Central will likely play second-seeded Charleston in the regional title game on May 24. Charleston is no slouch, but if the Maroons can prevail, they'll win the program's first regional title since 1981 and keep playing into late May.

If the seeds hold true and both teams deliver on their exceptional regular-season performances, then a rematch between the St. Joseph-Ogden and Monticello baseball teams could happen in a sectional championship game at the Workman Family Baseball Field on the Millikin University campus in Decatur. Monticello is the top seed in its own regional and begins its postseason run on May 15 against either ninth-seeded Olympia or seventh-seeded Warrensburg-Latham. SJ-O, meanwhile, will head to Bismarck for regional play and if the Spartans can get out of that, could meet either Normal U-High or Maroa-Forsyth on May 22 in a sectional semifinal game, with Monticello or potentially Unity a possibility in the sectional title game.