CHAMPAIGN — St. Thomas More's girls' basketball team is taking a stand for equality.
It's a topic many coaches try to emphasize: share the shots and give multiple players an opportunity to score points.
It's a concept many high schools are unable to implement. Try as they may to be equal-opportunity teams, the fact is most programs rely on one or two athletes to do the bulk of the scoring.
The Sabers reached the 15-win mark Thursday night with a balanced offensive attack. Freshman Lexi Wallen scored a game-high 21 points in St. Thomas More's 74-41 rollover win against Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
Wallen (8 of 14 from the field) was the only Saber to attempt more than seven field goals. Jade Brinkoetter made good use of her five shots, scoring 13 points. Elayna Kramer (seven shots) added 11 points, Erica Wallen (seven shots) scored eight points and Courtney Wax (three shots) hit all of her attempts and added seven points.
"There won't be a 'Big Three' every night," STM coach Jason Schreder said. "We can knock teams out with our offense."
The teams combined for 38 first-quarter points — St. Thomas More scoring 21 of them — with PBL staying in contention behind sharpshooter Cheyenne Weber. For the ninth consecutive game, the senior drilled at least three three-pointers.
Against the Sabers, Weber nailed three treys during an 11-point opening quarter and became the focal point of the STM defense.
"In the last four or five games, she was able to get a shot whenever she wanted and get into a rhythm," PBL coach Travis Duley said. "They did a better job of getting up on her, instead of letting her get clean looks. It has been a while since teams defended her like that."
Schreder rotated Brinkoetter, Kramer and Wax on the 5-foot-3 Weber to "keep fresh legs on her," he said.
The 5-8 Wax — a sophomore who is vastly improved from her freshman season — was a factor defensively.
"With her long arms, she disrupts the shooting eye," Schreder said.
St. Thomas More's offensive outburst — its third 70-point output this season — came with second-leading scorer Randa Harshbarger sitting out with an injury.
"Earlier, we won a tough game without Jade," Schreder said. "It's a good testament that other girls can pick up the spot."
Wax contributed key minutes in a reserve role.
"She puts in the hard work and has the desire to get better," Schreder said. "Sometimes she does things that make you go, 'Wow.' She enjoys basketball and can see herself getting better."
Lexi Wallen burst onto the area scene during the second half of a volleyball season where she ultimately earned All-Area second-team honors. In basketball, the 5-11 ninth-grader has been a starter since the season opener.
"She can do about anything," Schreder said. "It's similar to volleyball. Once she started tasting success, she got confidence."
Said Duley: "We don't have someone who is big and strong enough to play her down low and then step out on the perimeter and defend her. She's a nice post player with nice ballhandling skills."
During the Sabers' 26-point third quarter, Lexi Wallen and Wax both drilled three-pointers in transition. Brinkoetter also had a trey that period.
"At one point in the second quarter, someone on the bench said, 'We haven't run a play yet,' " Schreder said. "We preach, 'Push in transition and if you're open, shoot it. If not, attack the basket and try to get a layup.'
"In a way, our transition is like an offense."
Weber led PBL (10-5) with 15 points. Kandace Hofer added 12 points, and Panther teammate Andi Lemley grabbed a game-high six rebounds.
STM's equality came into play on the boards as well. Five players shared the team lead with four rebounds apiece: Brinkoetter, Kramer, Sierra Myerscough, Erica Wallen and Lexi Wallen.
Duley, whose squad had been within 10 points in its other four losses, wasn't devastated by the setback.
"It's Jan. 5, not Feb. 5," he said. "We have a month to work our tails off and get better. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
"We know if there's any chance to win a regional, it will be on this court and probably against this team."
N-G Top 10
TEAM (previous) RECORD
1. Centennial (1) 15-1
2. St. Thomas More (3) 15-3
3. Central (4) 12-4
4. Shiloh (8) 16-4
5. Tuscola (9) 12-2
6. LeRoy (5) 16-1
7. St. Joseph-Ogden (2) 14-2
8. Bismarck-Henning (6) 13-5
9. Watseka (7) 13-5
10. Urbana Uni High (—) 11-3
Three to see
What area teams have the best chance of making a playoff run? Prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner gives us one from each class:
Centennial: A junior-laden team is already a veteran group. Most already have played in 80 varsity games and are closing in on 70 varsity wins. No team has a collection of four better players than Chelsea Cross, Katelynn Martinez, Chantal Meacham and Stacia Simmons.
St. Thomas More: The Sabers will be regional hosts for a loaded field that could feature at least two 20-win teams besides themselves, including Bismarck-Henning and St. Joseph-Ogden. Lexi Wallen is the area’s top freshman, and Randa Harshbarger is one of the leading sophomores.
Tuscola: The Warriors will need to get past a team they’ve lost to (Shiloh) on the Raiders’ court to win a regional championship, but Erin Weaver and Sammi Kohlbecker will be up to the challenge, and their supporting cast is plenty capable.