Coaches prepare their teams and prepare the starting lineups. As a group, they are usually collectively in control of the activities of their teams.
And yet, Centennial's Susan Thomas was clueless about what was in store for her when the state-ranked Chargers played their home opener earlier this month against Decatur Eisenhower.
"Totally unexpected," Thomas said. "I was caught off guard, to say the least."
The basketball season had provided Thomas an opportunity to get her mind off the first part of the school year. Her father, Ronald (Whitey) Thomas died Sept. 20, following a 3 1/2-year battle with prostate cancer.
"He was my biggest supporter and certainly the biggest fan of the Lady Chargers," Susan Thomas said.
Prior to the announcement of the starting lineups, the coach learned her team had decided to wear a commemorative black band that reads, "Whitey."
"The girls took off their warmups to show them," Susan Thomas said, "and I'm not 100 percent sure what was said immediately following that because I was in tears."
The tribute to Whitey Thomas, a farmer for more than 50 years, didn't end there. When the game started and the coach settled into her seat on the bench, she noticed the spectators on the opposite side of the gymnasium.
"I finally looked up to the crowd and saw a TON of John Deere hats," Susan Thomas said. "My mom (Jane Ann) brother Bruce, one nephew and close personal friends were there wearing the hats in addition to most of the fathers of my athletes and many students and moms, too. It was quite a sight to see a bunch of John Deere hats in the Centennial bleachers."
Centennial's team made the night complete with a 60-37 win.
"Even last season when he wasn't feeling the greatest, he came to nearly all of our games," she said. "He was my hero and my favorite assistant coach. I miss him terribly."
Cerro Gordo junior Arionna Gant is moving up the school's career record book for blocked shots. Through eight games, she has 22, raising her three-year total to 114. The school record of 151 is held by Jackie Pflum from 1977 to '81.
Last season, she set the Broncos' single-season rebound record (333).
Falcons flying high
Last year's Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley squad was trying to get over the .500 mark until a late-season eight-game winning streak pushed the overall mark to 17-11. The streak — and the season — ended with a five-point regional title-game loss to Ridgeview.
With the nucleus of the team returning, coach Nick Elder hoped for a strong start. GCMS is 7-2.
"Our defense carried us early on," Elder said. "Our girls really take a lot of pride in their defense, and we've been able to take teams out of their comfort zone and force them into some mistakes. Lately, our offense has finally started to catch up. We have been taking much better care of the basketball, and we've got several girls gaining confidence and we are starting to knock down some shots."
Future bright at Clinton
Four returning starters at Clinton have been joined by four freshmen who were part of an eighth-grade team that was 22-4 last season and placed fourth in the IESA state tournament.
Freshman Haley Ginger has had two 15-point games. Classmates Payton Bieber and Jessica Scott have each had nine-point games, and Megan Tool has a varsity high of seven points.
After a 2-4 start, the Maroons have won five of their next seven games.
They're blending in with a group of veterans that include senior Madi Bevins (104 three-pointers the last two years), sophomore Haley Toohill (an All-Okaw second-teamer as a freshman), junior Morgan Hickman (the team's top rebounder with a 10.4 average) and senior Amber Miller.
Argenta-Oreana junior Kandie Bloch reached the 1,000-point mark against Arthur, a game where her late basket lifted the Bombers to a 51-50 victory.Through 11 games this season, she has 1,063 career points.
LeRoy senior Molly Marcum, who broke sister Nancy's single-season rebounding record last season (235), also eclipsed the 1,000-point mark this month. She has 1,131 career points. She also holds the school record for single-season blocks (37).
Oakwood senior Makenzie Baker reached 1,000 career points with an 18-point outing against Georgetown-Ridge Farm. Baker was the area scoring leader as a junior with an 18.9 average.
Ridgeview senior Megan Jones also hit the 1,000-point mark in her third game. Her coach is her father, Andy Jones, who took over when former coach Mindy Whitehouse left for the same job at Pontiac. Megan Jones has 1,206 career points. Her sophomore sister, Paige, is also on the varsity roster.
Chrisman's Paige Thevenin has been slowed in her pursuit of 1,000 points. She started the season needing 232 points. In her second game, she suffered a dislocated shoulder, which kept her out of action for five games. She also is chasing the school's career mark for rebounds (817, by Karren Tingley). Thevenin has 627 in her career, including 80 in eight games this season.
Same faces, new places
Blue Ridge senior Korri Gilbert is a transfer from Ridgeview. "She has been a tremendous help to our team," Blue Ridge coach Stephanie Schroeder said. "She is definitely a leader on the court."
Gilbert's high game (13 points) came against Ridgeview.
Junior Bailey Trimble, a double-figure scorer who made 32 three-pointers last season at Heritage, is at St. Joseph-Ogden. She had four three-pointers and 14 points against Salt Fork.
Kaaryn Wyss, who played for CPCI the last two seasons, is now a starting forward for Hoopeston Area as a junior. She had a 12-point game against Oakwood.
Christ Lutheran will gain the services of Iroquois West transfer Dani Meyer the second semester.
Two (or three) of a kind
Centennial has three sets of sisters in its program: Jasmine (sophomore) and Devin (freshman) Kyler; Corey (junior) and Nikki (freshman) Bilger; and sophomore twins Sarah and Rachel Curtis.
At GCMS, senior twins Jaymi and Jordyn Nettleton are starting guards.
Two juniors contributing at Monticello are Emily and Sarah Wells. Last season, they each suffered season-ending ACL injuries — on opposite knees.
At least one of Paxton-Buckley-Loda's junior twins, Andi and Erin Lemley, had a double-double in six of the team's first seven games. For the season, they each have three double-doubles.
St. Thomas More has two sisters contributing to the varsity, Erica (junior) and Lexi (freshman) Wallen. Lexi Wallen is the area's top scoring ninth-grader with a team-high average of 13.1 points per game.
Tuscola has sisters on its starting unit, Lisa (senior) and Susan (junior) Ponder.
Tri-County's roster features three sisters who are part of a set of quadruplets: Amber, Ami and Autumn Meyer. Amber has a high game of 26 points, Autumn has had a 15-point game and Ami a six-point game. The fourth sibling, Austin, is on the boys' basketball team.
Reunited at Monticello
Megan Garrett, Elise Pontious, Emily Wells and Sarah Wells were all in the same class as third-graders. Their teacher was Brad Garrett, who is now their head coach on the girls' basketball team.
A second family connection at Monticello involves assistant coach Scott Gadbury. His daughters Tori (senior) and Chrissy (sophomore) are both varsity players. Scott Gadbury is in his fifth year as the school's freshman coach.
More family connections
Tuscola head coach Tim Kohlbecker has relatives practically any way he turns within the program. His daughter, Sammi, is one of the senior starters. His niece, Audrey Mooney, is a senior regular.
Mooney's father, Tim, is the team's public address announcer. Another Kohlbecker niece, freshman Morgan Little, is starting on the junior varsity team. The Tuscola coaching staff includes Kohlbecker's son-in-law, Justin Bozarth (the JV coach), and Kohlbecker's daughter, Aja Bozarth.
St. Joseph-Ogden has three sisters involved in its program, including Rachael Graham, who is coaching the junior varsity team. Hannah Graham is a senior, and Morgann Graham is a freshman.
Exchange students are on the rosters at various schools.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda has junior Ina Hempen and sophomore Alex Wieczorek, both of whom are from Germany. "None of them have much experience playing basketball, so it has been an adventure at times," PBL coach Travis Duley said.
PBL manager Alex Rasmussen is an exchange student from Denmark.
At Sullivan, senior Grace Chanpichai is an exchange student from Thailand.
Arthur's 22-player roster includes 18 players who are freshmen or sophomores. ... Chrisman's 10-player squad features eight athletes who are freshmen or sophomores. ... Judah Christian, which won a regional title last season, has six players in its program, and coach Chris Chambers structures practice to make sure they're ready for few breaks during the games. "They run a lot," he said, "and they're getting in good shape." ... After missing 10 games with a back ailment, Champaign Central junior Laura Litchfield scored eight points in limited action in her season debut last Saturday. ... Former Salt Fork head coach Dave Ellars is as assistant at Unity. ... Tuscola's Erin Walker set the Warriors' season record for shooting accuracy last season as a sophomore (60.4 percent) and is on pace to shatter Andrea Wax's career field goal percentage (49.8 percent). To date, Walker has hit 54.8 percent of her career attempts. ... Watseka's starting off guard, Kaity Johnson, underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament she injured in the Warriors' third game. Johnson expects to be cleared in June to start workouts for her senior season. ... Rachel Ballard, a standout track athlete, has joined the SJ-O basketball team for her senior year. ... St. Thomas More's record for three-pointers made in a season (38 by current assistant Brittany Einck) could be in jeopardy. Through 12 games, Jade Brinkoetter has 12 treys and Elayna Kramer has 11. ... Watseka's Devin Curry, who shattered her school's record for assists (with 129) last season as a freshman, is on pace to raise that standard. Through nine games this season, she has 50 assists. ... Tri-County's Katie Shaffer is in line for valedictorian honors at Kansas.
Area players to keep an eye on this season
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT.
J’Lynn Ayers Danville Sr. 5-11
Makenzie Baker Oakwood Sr. 5-10
Kristen Belyea Mahomet-Seymour Jr. 5-5
Madi Bevins Clinton Sr. 5-6
Kandie Bloch Argenta-Oreana Jr. 6-1
Jamie Blue Urbana Uni High Sr. 5-9
Jade Brinkoetter St. Thomas More Jr. 5-4
Chelsea Cross Centennial Jr. 5-10
Devin Curry Watseka So. 5-6
Jakeenya Evans Champaign Central Sr. 5-6
Elizabeth Everingham St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-5
Josey Fruhling St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-8
Tori Gadbury Monticello Sr. 5-7
Angel Gaesser GCMS Sr. 5-7
Arionna Gant Cerro Gordo Jr. 6-0
Kewanee Garrett Champaign Central Sr. 5-8
Jessica Greer First Baptist Sr. 5-8
Lori Haas Bismarck-Henning Sr. 5-11
Randa Harshbarger St. Thomas More So. 5-2
Brittany Hay Georgetown-RF So. 5-6
Cheyenne Hedrington Champaign Central Sr. 5-10
Madie Herbert Unity Sr. 5-8
Emma Hoyer Urbana Uni High Jr. 5-11
Megan Jones Ridgeview Sr. 5-9
Sammi Kohlbecker Tuscola Sr. 5-5
Lindsey Krippel Prairie Central Sr. 5-6
Laura Litchfield Champaign Central Jr. 5-7
Molly Marcum LeRoy Sr. 5-10
Brooke Markwalder Armstrong-Potomac Sr. 5-8
Katelynn Martinez Centennial Jr. 5-6
Amanda McCollom Villa Grove Sr. 5-7
Chantal Meacham Centennial Jr. 5-9
Amber Meyer Tri-County Jr. 5-7
Larissa Moses Shiloh Sr. 6-1
Hannah Millington Argenta-Oreana Sr. 5-10
Paige Neuhauser Sullivan Sr. 5-7
Jacquelyn O’Neal Blue Ridge Sr. 5-11
Ashlen Portwood Milford Sr. 5-10
Maggie Schmidt Mahomet-Seymour So. 5-9
Samantha Siddens Bismarck-Henning Sr. 5-10
Stacia Simmons Centennial Jr. 5-6
Morgan Small Iroquois West So. 5-5
Lizzy Smith Villa Grove Jr. 5-8
Paige Thevenin Chrisman Sr. 6-2
Haley Toohill Clinton So. 5-4
Ashley Walker LeRoy Sr. 5-9
Lexi Wallen St. Thomas More Fr. 5-10
Tiffany Walthour Urbana Sr. 5-10
Hannah Wascher Rantoul Jr. 5-10
Erin Weaver Tuscola Jr. 5-9
N-G Top 10
TEAM (previous) RECORD COMMENT
1. Centennial (1) 11-0 Closest game was nine points
2. St. Joseph-Ogden (4) 10-0 Closest game was seven points
3. St. Thomas More (2) 11-1 Lone loss to Centennial, 63-47
4. Central (5) 8-3 Losses to Normal West, Proviso West. Bogan
5. LeRoy (9) 13-1 Loss to Rock Island Alleman, 59-48
6. Bismarck-Henning (3) 9-2 Lone losses to Centennial, Central
7. Watseka (6) 8-3 Losses to Momence, SJ-O, STM
8. Shiloh (7) 10-2 Lone losses to Uni High, Marshall
9. Tuscola (8) 7-1 Lone loss to Shiloh, 50-43
10. GCMS (—) 7-2 Losses to PBL, LeRoy
Save the date
Class 1A-2A regionals: Feb. 6-10
Class 3A-4A regionals: Feb. 13-16
Class 1A-2A sectionals: Feb. 13-17
Class 3A-4A sectionals: Feb. 20-23
Class 1A-2A super-sectionals: Feb. 20
Class 3A-4A super-sectionals: Feb. 27
Class 1A-2A state at Illinois State: Feb. 24-25
Class 3A-4A state at Illinois State: March 2-3