BasketballBLOOMINGTON – Entering the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, University High’s girls’ basketball team was looking to learn, in the words of their coach, Laura Sellers, “if we could hang with the state’s best teams.”

After the four day session they have had, resulting in getting to the Large School Bracket title game, a basketball observer would say the Pioneers can, indeed, hang with those opponents. And they can say that even though they dropped a close 41-39 decision to Springfield High at the Shirk Center on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus on Monday. The loss was just the first for Sellers’ crew on the season.

U-High (11-1) jumped out to a fast 4-2 lead on two straight baskets by senior center Emma Stroyan. From there, Springfield (15-0) went on a 6-0 run which included two free throws by junior guard Kierra Weir and back-to-back unanswered deuces by junior guard Courtney Pence and senior forward Anika Webster. That stretched the Senators’ lead, 8-4, with 3:45 left in the first quarter. Although Stroyan hit a deuce with 3:19 left to cut that lead to 8-6, a trey by Senators senior guard Julia Rosen at the 2:37 mark gave Springfield an 11-8 lead. The Senators still held an 11-10 lead going into the second quarter, following a Pioneers bucket by senior guard Chante Wilson.

The second quarter was a shootout of sorts, pitting U-High’s Stroyan against three Springfield players with pinpoint accuracy when it came to three-point shots. Webster, Rosen, and Weir combined to score a trey each for Springfield, while Stroyan hit four baskets, including one trey and Wilson added a trey during the period, for U-High, resulting in the Pioneers owning a 27-22 halftime lead.

U-High Pioneers U-High sophomore guard Chantel Stonewall landing a deuce and sinking a subsequent foul shot to open the third quarter helped push U-High’s lead, 30-22, as did another bucket by Stroyan giving the Pioneers a six point lead, 32-26 midway through the third quarter. A basket by Webster, and a free throw by Pence sliced U-High’s lead to three, 32-29 going into the fourth quarter.

Another Webster basket starting the final stanza would cut U-High’s lead down to one, 32-31 just 18 seconds into the fourth quarter. U-High held a 37-35 lead until 2:59 when Webster hit a deuce tying the game at 37-all. Stroyan hit a jumper with 2:21 remaining, putting U-High up, 39-37. Springfield’s Weir would tie the game again, 39-all, after stealing the ball on defense and hitting a layup.

The two teams each took a timeout before Rosen hit a jumper for Springfield, putting the Senators up, 41-39, with 5.1 seconds left. In the game’s remaining seconds, each side would call one more timeout. With just one chance to get a quick shot, U-High senior guard Tori Doubet passed the ball in-bounds to Ramsey who stood at left wing near the basket. Ramsey caught and fired the ball toward the basket, only to have it fly straight up and land short as the final buzzer sounded.

Pioneers Go 3-1 At The Classic: U-High was riding high coming into the tournament, owning a 7-0 record against their first “Classic” opponent, Plainfield South, winning in a 68-60 decision, advancing into the championship bracket. December 27, the Pioneers defeated Chicago Morgan Park, 53-48, to reach a semifinal battle against Morton. In that contest on Dec. 30 following the tourney’s Sunday off, Stonewall’s buzzer beating shot allowed the Pioneers to advance to Monday’s title game against the Senators.

Defensively in the championship game, Springfield forced U-High into committing 26 turnovers during the contest. It was a fact Senators head coach Brad Scheffler pointed to with some pride. “I thought our defense could do that tonight,” he said. “Offensively for us, by this, our fourth game, it was just a grind for us. But it was the defense getting stops on their offense that helped us win the game.

statefarmholidayclassic.gif“I thought our pressure wore them down, although we didn’t put in as many subs as we have in the past,” Scheffler added. He said not doing that as often was partly the result of the girls playing on a college length floor, slightly longer territory to cover than a game played in a high school gym.

“Offensively, U-High is so big that it made it hard to get shots inside,” Scheffler said. “As a result, we had to change things up a little bit offensively in the second half. We got the ball inside a little more in the second half than we did the first half.”

U-High head coach Laura Sellers said she thought her team was “ahead for most of the game and we put ourselves at a point to get beat. I thought we should have made some shots early. And those are shots we make 95 percent of the time, but that’s basketball for you.”

“Springfield kept chasing us, kept chasing us, kept chasing us and got the ball, tied the score and executed a good play and scored,” Sellers said, summing up how her team found themselves taking home a second place trophy after the final horn sounded. “We were a little short on layups, and a little bit high on turnovers.

“So, yeah, we’re disappointed, but we’re not going to hang our heads,” Sellers said, reminding reporters her Pioneers squad will meet up with Springfield on the road in February.

About missing layups, Sellers said she wasn’t sure what caused her team to miss some of those shots, adding her team would have liked to have some of those shots back.

By Steve Robinson | December 29, 2013 - 10:09 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonThere’s a quiet confidence about eighth grader Nicholas Phifer. He answers questions in a quiet tone and seems poised at an age when most kids come awkward.

His father, John Phifer, attributes that sense of self Nicholas has to his having joined Special Opportunities Available in Recreation (SOAR), a joint venture of the parks and recreation departments of the Town of Normal and the City of Bloomington. Nicholas has been part of SOAR, participating in team sports since the family moved to town from New Hampshire over a year ago.

It’s not hard to spot Nicholas when the team he belongs to, the SOAR Superstars, take to the court for basketball – at 5 foot-9, he’s the tallest player on head coach Katie Clothier’s team. “I started out playing Soccer, and then Softball, and then Basketball,” the 13-year-old explained. “It’s pretty fun and I’m meeting new people and have made new friends.

“It’s fun just playing sports with all these guys,” Nicholas said about being on the teams he has been on so far.

John Phifer said Nicholas, the second oldest of six children he and his wife, Amanda, have, had been part of a recreational soccer league in New Hampshire and that the experience with SOAR is the first the family has had with Special Olympics. He added Nicholas, an eighth grader at Chiddix Junior High School, has been busy with SOAR activities since the family arrived in the area.

“I noticed Nicholas’ attitude was different almost every day as a result of his being part of Special Olympics,” John Phifer said. “He liked going to school more. He was excited to go to school. He was excited to go to practice for his sports. He’s so happy to go and play with these people. He has so much fun.

Nicholas’ father further explained his son “has really developed some good relationships with his fellow athletes on the teams he has been on thus far. The athletes on the teams are very supportive of each other. We have also found there is a family atmosphere around Special Olympics. Everybody is very welcoming.

“Nicholas has a sense of being included here,” John Phifer added. “And with junior high school, that’s really the big challenge – who’s included in what group, and that sort of thing. But when you come to SOAR, everybody’s included, hands down, no questions asked. Everybody’s here and supportive of everybody else.”

statefarmholidayclassic.gifThat support showed itself in a couple of different ways during the Bloomington-Normal State Farm Holiday Tournament. On Dec. 28, nine teams representing five different agencies that specialize in helping people with developmental disabilities, including SOAR, participated in a day-long event its organizers are called “SOAR Game Day.”

The event had two primary purposes: First, Expanding the chance for visitors to the Holiday Classic to see Special Olympics athletes in action for a second day in addition to when they take to the court to participate in the “Ron Knisley Memorial Shootout” tournament; and second and foremost, giving these teams to get some games in to work toward having a record to work with in hopes of making the Special Olympics State Basketball Tournament in March.

During one game as part of Saturday’s competition, SOAR Superstars faced a team from Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation. The Superstars took it on the chin in that game, 50-8. But the fans for C-USR were equally supportive of SOAR’s giving-it-all-they-had effort during the contest. Nicholas even had a layup to help his team’s cause.

The second way support made itself visible was through another member of Nicholas’ family volunteering at Saturday’s session. Nicholas’ older brother, Ethan, who is a sophomore at Normal Community High School and will play football on the varsity team next fall, spent time volunteering as a timekeeper during the session.

“He feels better about himself,” big brother Ethan Phifer said about the influence Special Olympics has had on Nicholas. “I love how positively it has affected him.”

Ethan made note of something some of us may have forgotten since our years in high school. “A lot of what goes on in high school requires confidence,” Ethan explained. “If Nicholas has gained confidence from being in SOAR, he’ll definitely have confidence once he reaches high school.”

“Honestly,” John Phifer said, “I think it would be a mistake not to make contact with SOAR and getting involved. When you arrive at an event, everybody welcomes you warmly. It’s just a feeling of family.”

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – Normal Community High School came up a game short of playing for the Large School Boys Bracket championship at 35th annual boys’ tournament during the Bloomington-Normal State Farm Holiday Classic. The Ironmen fell to Chatham Glenwood, 43-41 in the semifinal matchup at Shirk Center on the Illinois Wesleyan University campus on Dec. 28.

As a result of the loss, NCHS (7-4) faced Mahomet-Seymour for third place on Monday at Shirk Center. As a result of the victory, Chatham Glenwood would face reigning Large School Boys Champion North Chicago.

NCHS junior forward Alex Peacock and Chatham Glenwood junior guard Drew Parriott exchanged treys to open the contest, putting the game in a quick 3-3 tie. NCHS jumped out to a 10-4 lead on baskets by junior guard Connor Oltman and Peacock. Chatham Glenwood recovered enough to pull within two, 10-8, just before the quarter ended on baskets by junior guard Cole Harper and junior forward Sam Anderson.

El Paso Gridley Titans Chatham Glenwood (8-3) pulled even at 10-all on a Parriott basket to open the second quarter. Two unanswered deuces and a trey by Allen helped push the Titans in front, 17-12, with 3:09 left until halftime. Parriott’s baskets were part of a rapid-fire 7-0 run. Peacock helped the Ironmen regroup using a pair of free throws and a basket, cutting that lead, 19-16, going into intermission.

NCHS junior Duane Farrington opened the third quarter with a basket for the Ironmen, slicing Chatham Glenwood’s lead to one, 19-18, with 7:49 left in the third quarter. The Ironmen did have a 6-0 run midway through the third, giving them a brief lead, 26-25, at the 4:43 mark. But from there, Allen helped the Titans surge ahead, scoring 10 of the 13 points his team managed to tally in the quarter. As a result, Chatham Glenwood owned a 32-28 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Fans were treated to an exhibition of threes in the fourth quarter, as Allen and Parriott landed treys as the quarter opened. That was followed by a trio of threes for NCHS by junior guard Zach Thompson, pulling the Ironmen within one, 38-37, with 3:45 left in the game.

Thompson hit another three at the 3:07 mark, giving NCHS a 39-38 lead. But Parriott replied with another three of his own with 1:17 left, giving the Titans a 41-39 lead. Peacock would foul Allen with 5.6 seconds left in the game, and Allen would sink both subsequent free throws, putting Chatham Glenwood up, 43-39.

statefarmholidayclassic.gif NCHS rushed to get the ball to an outside shooter with the remaining seconds they had left, looking for a player behind the three-point line, finding Oltman who hit a two-point layup at the buzzer leading to the eventual final score.

Allen was the lone Titans player in double-figures with 26 points. Peacock and Thompson reached double-figures for NCHS, tallying 11 points each.

“It was a struggle all night for both teams,” Chatham Glenwood head coach Todd Blakeman said afterward. “NCHS clogged the lane, and we claimed some shots, but we had some shots at the right time and they made a comeback. We did a nice job against Tyler Seibring. He can flat-out shoot.”

In referring to trying to contain Allen, NCHS head coach Dave Witzig said, “I thought we did a good job on him and he still got 26 points tonight.” But he added, “you have to give credit to Chatham Glenwood because their defense is hard-nosed, physical, and they get in your way and they did a great job.”

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – El Paso Gridley’s girls’ basketball team came into the Bloomington-Normal State Farm Holiday Tournament looking to get a jump on a positive season. The goal for every team is four wins, aiming to get to a championship. Anything short of that, either in a coach’s or his players’ minds would be graciously accepted by not to be settled for.

EPG exited this event’s 17th annual girls’ tournament with 6th place, having lost to Bloomington Central Catholic, 44-41, in a contest held at Normal Community West High School on Saturday, Dec. 28. BCC held off Camp Point/Augusta S.E., 75-56 to get to the matchup with EPG. Earlier in the day Saturday, EPG toppled Brimfield, 68-62, to earn the right to compete against BCC to see which team would earn fifth place.

EPG finished the tournament at 2-2, and improved their overall record to 11-2. They began the tournament with a 60-42 win over St. Joseph-Ogden. That victory put the Lady Titans in a second round game against Kankakee Bishop MacNamara.

During that game against the Fightin’ Irish, the Titans owned a quick 6-4 lead in the first quarter on two baskets by senior guard Rebekah Ehresman and a single deuce by sophomore guard Shelby Fulk. But a pair of deuces and free throw by Bishop MacNamara junior guard Khadaizha Sanders pushed her team in front of EPG, 9-6, going into the second quarter.

El Paso Gridley Titans EPG senior forward Anna Gauger hit back-to-back unanswered deuces to open the second quarter giving the Titans a 10-9 lead with 6:03 left in the quarter. Sophomore guard Jen Ehresman’s deuce at 4:03 in the quarter pulled EPG within two, 14-12. but beginning with another Sanders basket, Bishop MacNamara went on a 13-0 run to close out the quarter, including a trey by junior guard Hanna Mitchell, giving the Fightin’ Irish a 27-12 halftime advantage.

Bishop MacNamara kept EPG at bay throughout the third quarter. only senior forward Codee Schlipf and Gauger managed to get into the paint offensively for EPG, while Bishop MacNamara saw scores from senior forward Jenna Stauffenberg, junior forward Corinne O’Connor, and senior forward Kyleigh Payne. The onslaught resulted in EPG trailing, 45-28 going into the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, fouls called on EPG sent five separate Bishop MacNamara players to the free throw line for a combined 4-for-9 scoring drive. Jen Ehresman, freshman forward Lauren Hoselton, and sophomore forward Riley Hickey provided points for EPG as the game drew to a close.

statefarmholidayclassic.gif Sanders led all scorers with 13 points. For Bishop MacNamara, she was followed in double figures by Payne and O’Connor, each of whom added 10 points apiece. No EPG players managed double figures, but Schlipf and Gauger each tallied 8 points apiece.

“The time we have at this tournament is going to be a measuring stick to see what we need to work on,” explained EPG head coach Kyle Bobbitt. “Bishop MacNamara was, by far, the strongest team we’ve played all year. They had a lot of quickness and we don’t see much of that quickness. But like I told the girls, ‘you’ve got to keep your head up.’ I told them this is a learning experience. We need to see what we need to work on.”

Reporters could not reach Kankakee Bishop MacNamara head coach Ramon Daguinsin following the game.

BasketballNORMAL – To explain the victory El Paso Gridley achieved in their first round game against Kankakee Bishop MacNamara in the first round of the 35th annual State Farm Bloomington Normal Holiday Classic, Titans head coach Nathaniel Meiss theorized afterward, “We were unselfish with the basketball. We took advantage of opportunities to get layups.”

It was a style of play that led to the 9th seeded Titans being able to cruise through most of the contest en route to a 52-47 victory over 8th seeded Fightin’ Irish in a game played at Normal Community West High School on Dec. 26.

It was a contest in which the Titans did not shoot a single three-point shot. “That’s unusual for us,” Meiss pointed out. The win gave them a second round game some might think unenviable: Facing Small School Boys Bracket top seed Rockford Lutheran.

El Paso Gridley Titans EPG (6-3 following this game) opened up the game with a 6-0 lead on buckets by senior guard Taylor Augsberger, and senior forwards Connor Haas and Austin Ahnafield before a trey by Bishop MacNamara sophomore guard Jerrico Johnson cut that lead to 6-3 en route to EPG owning an 8-5 lead going into the second quarter.

Junior guard Jake Hoselton was featured prominently in the second quarter, as he scored 13 of the Titans’ 17 points during the period, including a trey, pushing EPG to a 25-13 lead at the half. Senior forward Jared Marcotte scored two deuces for Bishop MacNamara in the quarter, followed by a deuce each from senior guard Anthony Tatum and sophomore forward Daniel Hoekstra.

A trey by senior guard Tyshawn Willis opened the third quarter for Bishop MacNamara, followed by a deuce by Hoekstra, cut EPG’s lead to seven, 25-18 with 7:03 left in the quarter. Baskets by Augsburger, senior guard Tyler Ramsey, and Haas pushed the Titans toward a 38-25 lead to start the fourth quarter.

Back-to-back deuces by Kankakee Bishop MacNamara’s Johnson cut EPG’s lead to 11, 40-29, with 6:53 left in the contest. With 3:37 left, a trey by Marcotte pulled Fightin’ Irish within seven, 45-38. Foul trouble for EPG allowed Hoekstra to go to the line three separate times where he sank 4-of-6, putting Bishop MacNamara as close as they would come, 46-44, with 47.3 seconds left in the contest before landing in foul trouble themselves.

statefarmholidayclassic.gif Four consecutive fouls by Bishop MacNamara would put Ramsey, Ahnafield, Haas, and Augsburger at the line, where they would amass a combined 6-for-8 from the line, giving EPG a 52-44 lead with 11.9 seconds left. EPG junior guard Michael Mounce fouled Willis in a three-point attempt, allowing for three free throws, all of which Willis put through the hoop, leading to the eventual final score.

“Our guys did a good job,” Meiss said afterward. “Our guys played with a tremendous amount of poise, I thought, really late, and hung onto the basketball.

“Bishop MacNamara is a good team,” Meiss added. “They applied a lot of pressure. But we settled in and eventually, finished them off. We took care of the basketball and showed good poise.”

“I thought our effort wasn’t really there,” explained Jeremy Heck, Bishop MacNamara’s head coach. “We lost a lot of easy shots, and that was an awful lot of shots that usually fall for us. That frustrated us, and put us in a situation where we weren’t giving the effort until we had to at the end of the third quarter, and fourth quarter.”