Steve RobinsonI’ve never won a championship in anything. I’ve won awards for my writing, but that’s as close as I’ve come. Our editor, Ed Pyne, was a member of Lexington High School’s 1964 Boys’ State Basketball Championship team, so he knows a little something about being in the winners’ circle.

But I have no idea how a 17- or 18-year-old girl handles being a champion – even a third place champion – like the members of Ridgeview High School’s Girls’ Basketball team. The Mustangs finished third this year at the IHSA Class 1A State Tournament on Feb. 27. That makes twice in the last three years head coach Mindy Whitehouse’s crew has left Redbird Arena with hardware.

For the four seniors on the team – guard Paige Nord; forward Sarah Butler and Lacey Gleeson; and center Analita Voss – the third place game was their last hurrah on a high school basketball court. And if we ever counted grade school teams to keep track of basketball careers, all of these girls would be considered veterans. These kids have been playing ball together almost as soon as they started school together.

And these veterans have a legacy. It was even tough for Whitehouse to put into words when asked about it at the post-game news conference following Ridgeview’s 67-66 overtime victory to claim third place in IHSA Class 1A against Hume Shiloh last weekend. You could see in her face that letting go of kids who have done so well for her these past few years wasn’t easy to do, let alone find words that would come without tears.

“It’s been a great run,” Whitehouse said. “Four years ago, when they walked onto the court, I just knew right then that it would be a great run with these girls.”

“They come to practice to work every day,” Whitehouse said. “They are the best role models for my younger girls, and…I know my younger players will always think about those girls stepping up to the plate.”

“I can’t say enough about them,” Whitehouse said, adding, “It’s bittersweet for me because we walk away with a win tonight, but I lose four great girls…”

Whitehouse had measured breaths with those last three words, “four great girls….”

While Nord, Butler, and Voss were on the court, making their way to State a rung at a time, frustrating opposing players and their coaches in the process, the fourth girl – fellow senior Lacey Gleeson — was unable to play due to a knee injury.

Gleeson injured her knee and spent the last weeks of the regular season and the Mustangs’ post-season watching her teammates from the bench. Once injured, Lacey’s role on the bench went from player to serving as motivational support.

“It may not hit us until graduation that, after that, we won’t all be together anymore,” Gleeson said.

Butler said she didn’t want this third place game to end because, she knew, like the other girls, that once that final horn sounded on their game at Redbird Arena, their days of playing basketball together – for some of them, dating back to grade school – would be over. Butler even got emotional in front of me as she explained why.

“I just love these girls so much” was all she needed to say.

Another girl who is a junior and will be returning to the team next year, Megan Jones, told reporters, “I’ve played with these girls since I was in first grade, even though I was younger than they were. This is really hard because I’ve played with them for so long, and these are the greatest girls to play with.”

Once Gleeson was injured, Whitehouse tagged Voss to step into her slot on the court. It wasn’t without adjustment, Voss explained. “It was difficult at first,” Voss said. “There was a lot of pressure on me. We had to lose a couple of games in the process, but I ended up getting it together. I made a promise to Lacey after she got hurt.”

That promise? “Every shot I make, every rebound I get, every steal I get – everything is for you.”

After Ridgeview’s win over Hume Shiloh, Voss could say, “I kept my promise to the end.”

Whitehouse said she realized she would be losing four “great seniors” as she boarded the team bus for what would be this team’s last ride to Redbird Arena last Saturday. “Even though it’s been four years since they walked into my gym, it feels like I’ve known them my entire life,” she told me.

Considering all they’ve shared leading up to last weekend, I’m fairly certain that bond between this coach and these girls will be permanent.

By Steve Robinson | - 10:03 pm
Posted in Category: Heyworth Buzz

Steve RobinsonLike most high school freshmen, Hollie Sinn is a spirited young person ready to take on the world in whatever direction her lessons and her heart guide her.

During the basketball season, Sinn, a freshman at Heyworth High School, had taken on the task of trying to be a three-point champion on her first try.

Holly was among 32 girls who participated in a shootout semi-final for Illinois High School Association Class 1A and Class 2A players at Redbird Arena on Feb. 24, hoping to be a finalist who would go on to competing to be a three-point on her first try.

Giving it her all, and moving swiftly between the three shooting stations, Hollie looked to be concentrating intently with every throw. But of the 12 shots she took, only 4 swished through the net. Hope dashed with every miss, but although the outcome was disappointing, Hollie could still be found smiling at the end.

“It wasn’t how I wanted it to go, I guess,” Sinn said after it was all over. “But I had fun.”

For a coach, watching their player compete in a three-point shootout must be somewhat nerve-wracking. During games, a coach can yell instructions or plot strategy during a timeout. During a three-point shooting contest, a coach can do nothing more than join the rest of us in the stands and watch…and hope.

Heyworth High School head coach Tony Griffin was seen doing just that while Sinn was working through her turn on the floor.

After it was all over, Griffin had praise for his player for her effort the first time out at this event. “I wanted to see her do well,” Griffin said. “She represented us very well.

“I’m very proud of what she did,” Griffin added. “She got a lot of shots up in the last few weeks, and hopefully, it will carry over to next season when it really counts on the floor.”

I’ve been told by players who have had a similar experience that when a player goes from cozy hometown gym to large arena, there is an intimidation factor that sets in. At first, Hollie didn’t think the bigger stage contributed to her final score, but then, almost with her next breath, said, “I guess…A little.”

But then her youthful spirit blazed through when she added, “But I got here. That was my goal.”

I reminded her that her being a freshman, she would three more chances to try this again, and her optimism came through again: “That’s what’s good about it,” she said with a smile.

We should all take her approach when disappointment sets in. I have a feeling Hollie will be back for a future three-point contest…or two. Or three. No doubt that pride her coach has in her now will grow as she continues to mature as a player.

Sinn is an up-and-coming three-point shooter. I thought, were she and second-year reigning Class 2A three-point queen Allie Norton were to sit and chat, Norton could give her some pointers.

“She just needs to keep practicing,” was the best advice Norton offered to the young Hornets player coming up behind her. Norton, a senior at Bloomington Central Catholic, will compete in a “Queen of the Court” competition against the 3-point champions from Class 1A, 3A, and 4A next weekend at Redbird Arena, when the Class 3A and 4A girls State Championships will be back in town.

When I asked Norton if she was excited to be competing against the four other free throw Queens, she had her mind on business-at-hand. She said she was concentrating on winning a State Class 2A Championship with her Saints teammates first before even thinking about concentrating on the free throw finale.

As it turns out, Hollie is not the only Hornets player striving to succeed at making the most shots from behind the arc. In addition to Sinn, two Hornets boys’ basketball players – sophomore Nick Norton, son of Bill and Linda Norton; and Zach Quinn, a junior, son of David and Kim Quinn – are trying to find themselves in Peoria for the boys’ 3-point shooting finals when they take place next week.

BasketballNORMAL – If one word could sum up both sides of the Illinois High School Association Class 2A championship between Bloomington Central Catholic and Quincy Notre Dame, that word would be desire.

BCC was working on an undefeated season coming into the contest, with the desire to hoist a State trophy as undefeated champions, and do it for the second straight year.

For Quincy Notre Dame, the runner-up to BCC in the Class 2A Championship last year, their desire was to find themselves where BCC found themselves at the end of last year’s tourney – as State Champions.

In the end, QND handed the Saints their only loss on the last night of the season, beating BCC, 75-64, as roughly 1,500 fans at Redbird Arena, representing both sides, cheered their respective teams on.

QND (31-1) jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on back-to-back buckets by junior forward Tori Kuhn and a single basket by sophomore guard Jordan Frericks, giving QND a fast 6-0 lead with 6:48 in the first quarter. Senior guard Lindsay Stopa halted that streak with a basket and free throw, cutting QND’s lead, 6-3, with 6:40 in the quarter. Although QND was able to jump out to a 17-8 lead midway through the quarter on another basket each by Frericks and Kuhn, BCC (32-1) roared back as the quarter was coming to an end.

With 2:40 left in the quarter, BCC senior forward Jess Reinhart, having been fouled by Frericks, sank two free throws to close the gap, 17-10. The 5 foot-10 Reinhart followed that up with a layup, edging toward QND, 17-12. Saints senior guard Allie Norton sank a trey with a minute left, cutting QND’s lead, 17-15. When BCC freshman guard Caroline Holt swiped the ball away from QND junior guard Shannon Foley and scored, the game was tied, 17-all, going into the second quarter.

The game was tied twice in the second quarter – 24-all, thanks to a Norton trey with 4:13 until halftime; and 26-all with 3:31 left when Reinhart landed a jumper. BCC went on a 6-0 jaunt toward the end of the quarter, holding a 35-31 halftime lead.

A pair of treys and two free throws by sophomore guard Kassidy Gengenbacher helped the Fightin’ Irish open their third quarter, giving QND a 39-37 lead. From there, QND added baskets by Foley, and free throws by freshman forward Morgan Martin to extend their lead to 50-47 in a quarter that saw BCC spend most of their time at the free throw line, sending three players – Reinhart twice, and senior guard Emily Beoletto, and Stopa each once – to the line, earning a collective 6 points on eight shots, helping put BCC within three, 50-47, going into the fourth quarter.

And from there, QND held the lead for the rest of the contest. BCC would get as close as 56-52, with 4:54 left when Reinhart sank two free throws, having been fouled by QND junior forward Kate Gengenbacher, but QND would go on a 6-0 spurt, putting them up by 10, with 3:35 left.

Kassidy Gengenbacher led QND on the night with 22 points. She was followed in double-figures by junior forward Tori Kuhn scoring 18 and Frericks’ 14.

Reinhart and Norton led BCC in scoring, each girl scoring 24 points apiece.

“Our girls wanted to be in this spot from June on, and they made the most of it tonight,” said QND head coach Eric Orne. He added the victory was “redemption” for having lost to BCC in the Class 2A Title game last year here.

Central Catholic Saints “Anytime you play for a state title, you want to win a state title,” Orne said. “Second place – the silver medal kind of leaves you hungry for more. We wanted to come back and prove to ourselves that, maybe, we were the best team.”

BCC head coach Debbie Coffman was not available for comment immediately after the game.

About three dozen enthusiastic Saints fans stood outside Redbird Arena waiting to congratulate Coffman and her BCC players for the job they had done this season.

Jamie Wibben, mother of BCC team manager Alison Lancaster, said, “They knew they had a lot of work to do this season. It’s hard to repeat as champion. I was hoping the girls would keep their heads in the game and keep the emotions in control.”

Joseph Stopa, father of BCC’s Lindsay Stopa was also standing in the crowd waiting for the team after the game. He said he was “a little disappointed” in the outcome, but added, “You have a group of senior girls there that 32-1 this season and won state last year. We played a very good ball club in Quincy Notre Dame. We lived by the press. We died by the press today.”

BCC arrived at the Class 2A Championship game thanks to their 51-49 quarterfinal victory over Kankakee McNamara on Feb. 25. The win helped BCC keep their perfect record in tact up to that point at 32-0.

After tying McNamara (23-9), 13-13 at the end of the first quarter, BCC went on an 8-0 tear midway through the second quarter. It began with three baskets by senior forward Jess Reinhart, giving the Saints a 19-15 lead with 4:10 left in the first quarter.

Senior guard Lindsay Stopa sank a fourth basket with an assist from senior guard Emily Beoletto, giving the Saints a 25-15 lead. Beoletto added a trey at the buzzer giving BCC a 29-18 halftime lead.

Four free throws by Beoletto added to baskets by Reinhart and senior guard Allie Norton helped BCC to a 40-35 lead going into the fourth quarter.

McNamara fought back in the fourth quarter, getting as close as 48-46 with 1:06 left in the game on a pair of free throws by senior forward Erika Tatum, a layup by senior center Belinda Schaafsma, and two free throws by senior guard Sarah Kidwell.

But fouls in the closing seconds committed by McNamara sent Saints freshman guard Caroline Holt and Stopa to the free throw line, where they went a combined 3-for-4 to arrive at the final score.

Reinhart was the lone Saints player in double-figures for this contest, with 13 points. Kankakee Bishop McNamara had three players in double-figures, as Schaafsma and Tatum each scored 16 points, with senior guard Melissa LaReau scoring 13.

By Steve Robinson | February 27, 2011 - 10:08 pm
Posted in Category: Ridgeview, The Normalite

BasketballNORMAL – The last 13 seconds of Colfax Ridgeview’s girls’ basketball season will, likely, never be forgotten by Mustangs head coach Mindy Whitehouse or her players.

Against Shiloh with the Illinois High School Association Class 1A third place trophy on the line, Ridgeview (27-7) trailed by one, 66-65 in overtime when Shiloh senior forward Lauren Bogle bobbled an easy in-bounds pass, with 13 seconds left.

Ridgeview senior Sarah Butler alertly scooped up the ball and rushed to the basket, sinking a layup with four seconds left, giving the Mustangs their second third place trophy in three years, beating a slightly taller Shiloh squad, 67-66.

The victory came after fans at Redbird Arena saw a seesaw fourth quarter which Shiloh (29-6) opened the period with a 48-43 lead. Ridgeview senior Paige Nord’s jumper at 7:10 in the quarter cut Shiloh’s lead, 48-45.

Ridgeview held a 56-52 lead with 1:50 left in regulation thanks to a Nord free throw.

Bogle cut that lead, 56-54, with a layup with 1:39 left. Fouled by Shiloh, Nord added two points at 1:32, giving the Mustangs a 58-54 advantage.

Nord committed her fifth foul against Shiloh freshman guard Bethany McGinness while McGinness was shooting from behind the arc, giving her three free throws. McGinness sank 2-of-3, increasing Shiloh’s lead, 58-56, with 28 seconds left in regulation.

Ridgeview MustangsHaving been fouled by McGinness, Ridgeview’s Jenna Ayers added another free throw, giving the Mustangs a 59-56 lead, with 26.2 seconds left.

But it was a temporary lead, as McGinness sank a three-pointer with 10 seconds left in the contest, tying the game at 59-all.

When Ridgeview got the ball inbounds, Butler mishandled it, leading to a scramble, but the horn sounded forcing the overtime.

Once the game started, Shiloh owned a 19-14 lead after one quarter, but Ridgeview caught up by halftime, only trailing by one, 35-34, despite two Shiloh players – McGinness and sophomore guard Shelby Smith – each registering two treys each in the second quarter.

Nord led all players in this game with 23 points. She was followed in double-figures for the Mustangs by junior forward Megan Jones’ 19, and 16 from Butler.

Bogle’s 27 points led Shiloh, followed by 11 from McGinness.

Ridgeview head coach Mindy Whitehouse opened the post-game news conference by saying, “My girls are going to hate me for saying this, but, I feel bad for Shiloh. As a coach, you never want to see it go down to that last play. Shiloh is great team out there and they played really hard, and I have a lot of respect for that team.

Whitehouse continued: “I’m really proud of my girls, because, y’know, when Paige Nord fouls out and she’s your key player, the situation could have looked bad really fast. Yet, we really stepped up.

“That’s been the story of our life this year,” Whitehouse explained. “When things got really bad this year, somebody else stepped up, and that’s exactly what we had to do today.”

After fouling out, Nord spent the game’s last 4 ½ minutes on the bench watching her teammates work without her toward an anticipated third place finish. “It was hard,” Nord said. “I always like to be out on the court, but, I have faith in my teammates and we’ll do anything to get it done.”

Ridgeview got to the third place game after losing their semi-final to Hanover, Ill.-based River Ridge-Scales Mound Co-Op (RRSH), 58-48. In that game, Ridgeview fell into a hole early, trailing 12-2 with 4:41 left in the first quarter. Two baskets and a free throw by Butler in the closing seconds of the quarter helped the Mustangs to close in on RRSH’s lead, 20-11.

IHSARidgeview tied the game twice in the second quarter – 22-all, with 3:21 left; and 24-all with 2:36 left until halftime – before RRSH went on a 7-0 streak, punctuated by a trey by junior guard Megan Altfillisch, with 24 seconds until halftime, giving RRSH a 31-26 halftime lead.

RRSH (28-1) went on an 11-0 streak in the third quarter, which began with a three from Altfillish at 5:19 in that quarter, giving RRSH a 48-30 lead with 2:26 left in that quarter.

RRSH opened the fourth quarter with a 48-33 lead. They led 58-39 with 3:27 left in the contest, when Ridgeview went on a 9-0 run, started by a trey from Megan Jones with 1:58 left in the contest.

Jones followed that up with a deuce, cutting RRSH’s lead to 58-44 with 58 seconds left. Mustangs senior center Analita Voss sank a layup with 45 seconds left, cutting RRSH’s lead to 58-46. Freshman forward Rachelle Weber sank what turned out to be Ridgeview’s last bucket of the game with 10 seconds left, but it wasn’t enough.

Senior forward Whitney Kieffer led all players in the semi-final, scoring 23 points. She was followed in double-figures for RRSH by fellow senior Jessie Albrecht’s 12, and 11 from junior center Kaitlyn Pleau.

Butler scored 17 points, leading the Mustangs during the semi-final. She was followed by Nord’s 12.

By Steve Robinson | February 22, 2011 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members approved an ordinance rezoning property in the Eagle’s Landing Subdivision from being Business to Multiple Family Use. The owner of the property, Erik Sloneker, sought to rezone the property, located at 1285 Healing Stone Ct. Council members voted 6-1 in favor of the rezoning, with Council member Adam Nielsen voting against it.

At the Jan. 18 Council meeting, Council members, by a 4-2 vote, rejected an ordinance which would have rezoned those 25 acres of property in the Eagle’s Landing Subdivision. Koos was absent from that meeting.

Because the ordinance had been voted down last month, and Koos sought Monday night to suspend the rules and a re-evaluation by Council members on Sloneker’s request for rezoning, the matter was brought back for Council’s consideration.

Members of the public were allowed to speak on this issue prior to the vote being taken. John Barnes, 3321 Turquois Way, in speaking for those who objected to Sloneker’s plan for the property, told Council members single family homes were advertised by the developer, but he is concerned Sloneker was changing the construction plan to build apartments instead, which Barnes said he believes is not fair to those who were led to believe otherwise.

Sloneker told Council members he decided to “re-brand” the property after spending 2 ½ years of trying to market the property for single home use, without success. He purchased the property 3 ½ years ago.

“We are clearly obligated to uphold the agreement,” Koos said. “Legal Counsel has told us that, if taken to court, the plaintiff (Sloneker) would likely prevail.”

“The biggest stumbling block here is the unknown,” said Council member Cheryl Gaines. “The concern is how large is this going to be…”

Greg Troemel, director of inspections for the Town, told Council members a single building on the site desired on the 18 acres of land would need to have 36 apartment units, and be about two-and-a-half stories high, per the annexation agreement.

City Manager Mark Peterson added it was unlikely such a complex would not be marketed to students because of its location.

The first step in that process was to see if Council members would be willing to have a supermajority vote to suspend rules and reconsider the earlier vote. On that measure, Council members voted 5-2 to reconsider the earlier vote. Council members Adam Nielsen and Jeff Fritzen voted against using the supermajority vote.

The Council’s vote last month went against both a recommendation of the Normal Planning Commission and a decision in 2000 by those sitting on the Normal Town Council at that time.

Sloneker, sought Council approval to change the zoning of the property located at the southwest corner of Raab Rd. and Airport Rd.

Sloneker had marketed the property to developers for the last two years as General Business, but had no takers. Sloneker had originally tried to have the land rezoned in 2009, but that request was denied by the Town’s Planning Commission.

Although several residents of the Eagle’s Landing Subdivision testified before the Normal Planning Commission in opposition to Sloneker’s current rezoning request, no one spoke in opposition at the Council’s Jan. 18 regular meeting.

At last month’s original vote, Council members Gaines, Chuck Scott, Jason Chambers, and Nielsen voted down the original measure, while Council members Jeff Fritzen and Sonja Reece voted in favor of it.

Normal To Host 2012 Frontier League All-Star Game: Prior to the meeting, Council members heard from Bill Lee, Commissioner of the Frontier League, the independent league which the Normal CornBelters have belonged to since the team’s debut last season. Lee, flanked by CornBelters President Steve Malliet; Koos; Matt Hawkins, Sports Marketing Manager for Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau; and CornBelters mascot Corny, announced Normal and The Corn Crib would play host to the 2012 Frontier League All Star Game. The game is slated for July 11, 2012.

Calling the All Star Game, the Frontier League’s “premier event,” Lee told about 30 people gathered in the gallery of the Council Chambers the process for bringing such an event to town began pushing forward in the last two years.

“This is a tremendous area,” Lee said. “I love the city. I love this area, and I know that when all the owners of the other teams, the players, all their families, and their friends who wind up coming here will all be love the area.”

Matt Hawkins, sports marketing manager for the Bloomington-Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Bureau estimates the All Star event “will have an economic impact on the community of approximately $250,000. That’s quite substantial.” Hawkins added BNCVB looked forward to being involved and would do everything it could to help make the all-star event a success.

“We have worked with a lot of cities and a lot of ballparks around the country,” said Malliet. “But this group of people here has been very special to work with, and this community has been great. Our fan base here is wonderful. It’s growing every day. We’re just very excited to be able to bring an event like this, and many more in the future.”

Subdivision Plan Approved: Council members also approved a subdivision plan for six residences on the west side of Prospect Ave. Advocate BroMenn Medical Center has owned the homes for a number of years and planned to raze them in favor of building a new parking lot. But in recent years, the Medical Center has opted to migrate its campus west rather than east, making the demolition of the houses unnecessary.

Council member Sonja Reece is a Advocate BroMenn Medical Center employee, and as such, withdrew herself from voting on the measure.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the Public Hearing held Feb. 7, 2011.

• Approval of minutes of the Regular Meeting of Feb. 16, 2011.

• A motion to waive the formal bidding process and authorize Town Staff to execute an agreement with Eaton Corporation for the purchase of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and related educational services in accordance with the Federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program.

• A resolution for the use of Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) Funds to finance General Obligation Bonds to be used for roadway improvements in Uptown Normal.