CHAMPAIGN — Last year, Jason Schreder was an assistant with St. Thomas More's boys' basketball regional champions.
Friday he was on the sidelines — as head coach — as the girls' basketball program celebrated its fourth regional title in six years.
And next year? Schreder, a former student manager at the University of Illinois for Bruce Weber, may well be an assistant coach with the girls' team.
"That's the plan right now," he said.
The St. Thomas More theology teacher switched teams — and job titles — this year when girls' head coach Chris Mennig took a one-year sabbatical to coach in college (with a 15-8 Arizona State University team) for a coach on personal leave.
"It has been a joy to have this opportunity," Schreder said. "The girls have made it easy. The girls have a passion for the game and they made a quick adjustment. There's not a day I don't leave practice wanting to get back on the court."
The Sabers will have that chance, advancing into a Class 2A sectional at the school they just beat 49-41, St. Joseph-Ogden. Monday's 6 p.m. game at SJ-O will be against Decatur St. Teresa.
St. Thomas More did it with defense. The Sabers forced 11 second-quarter turnovers by an SJ-O team that had only eight in Thursday's entire semifinal game.
The ringleader — as she was a night earlier in the semifinals — was STM sophomore Randa Harshbarger. She swiped the ball three times from Spartans guard Elizabeth Everingham in the first half, converting two into layups.
"E (Everingham) had a difficult night, but Randa is tough to go against," SJ-O coach Brian Hatfield said. "I've not seen a kid as heady and who can operate a team the way she does.
"She never gets rattled."
The defense helped STM build an 11-point lead the final 90 seconds of the third quarter before the Spartans made a run, sparked by a 12-1 flurry that created a 36-36 tie on a rebound basket by Josey Fruhling with 2:52 remaining.
"We knew they would punch back," Harshbarger said.
"We stayed composed," teammate Brooke Schmidt added.
Less than a minute later, Hannah Gaylord's layup gave SJ-O its first lead, 39-38, since the first quarter. Her shot came at 1:59.
"What I love about this team," Schreder said, "is they don't get rattled to the point they melt down. They had a one-point lead, but we scored right away and took away any momentum they had."
Jade Brinkoetter, who had made her first six free throws, scored on a fast break and hit her seventh free throw at 1:48. The Sabers were in control for good, 41-39.
Schreder, in his fourth year at St. Thomas More (the first two were as an assistant in girls' basketball) has kept in touch with Mennig "more of a friendship thing," than talking strategy, he said, unless "I initiate it."
Whoever coaches the Sabers next winter will have a nucleus featuring four returning starters.
"Hopefully we can keep it going," Schreder said.
Speaking from Colorado, where ASU plays Saturday, Mennig said, "I'm happy for them."