Recent Schlarman graduate Gouard enjoying last showcase

Recent Schlarman graduate Gouard enjoying last showcase

PONTIAC — The last all-star basketball game Sydney Gouard suited up for ended in dramatic fashion.

With Gouard the cause, no less.

The recent Schlarman graduate put back a miss by former Hilltoppers teammate Janiah Newell for a buzzer-beating layup in April, guiding her side to a last-second victory in the News-Gazette/Parkland College All-Area All-Star Game.

As fun as that was, the 5-foot-10 forward isn't expecting a similar story to be told at Saturday's Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Game.

"Hopefully, me and my team can get a big enough lead," Gouard said, "to where we don't need a game-winning layup."

Gouard again will be joined by Newell, as well as 12 other athletes, in competing for the Class 1A/2A girls' North Team in a battle with the South Team at noon Saturday inside Pontiac High School's gymnasium.

It's the first of four IBCA All-Star games on tap, with the 3A/4A girls' game at 2 p.m. followed by the 1A/2A boys' game at 4 p.m. and the 3A/4A boys' game at 6 p.m.

"It means a lot (to be selected)," Gouard said. "It means they've noticed what I've done over the last couple years. ... It means that you're a good enough player."

Gouard, who will play Division I basketball starting this upcoming season at Oakland after signing with the Golden Grizzlies last November, also engaged in a practice session and banquet Friday, additional aspects of "getting to know each other" and having a good time.

Of course, winning is a part of that equation as well, even in an exhibition format.

"It's going to be very competitive," Gouard said. "But most of all, I think it's going to be really fun playing with new people and playing against better competition."

Twelve different prep programs will be represented on the 1A/2A girls' North Team, including recent area products in Newell — Gouard's teammate at Schlarman — Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin's Annie Nelson and Watseka's duo of Kennedy Bauer and Magan Harris. On the 1A/2A South team, Sullivan's Esther Miller and Tri-County's Harley Barry and Kiersten Price-Wilson are on the roster.

On the boys' side, the area is represented in the 1A/2A game with Cissna Park's Christian Stadeli, LeRoy's Nick Perry and Watseka's Blake Castonguay on the North team, while Danville's Sean Houpt will play with the 3A/4A South team in the event's final game.

"I'm really looking forward to playing with Janiah Newell one more time," Gouard said, "... and with Annie Nelson one last time before we go our separate ways."

The Hilltoppers often blitzed their foes en route to 1A state championships in 2018 and 2019. So seeing the best the state has to offer before heading to the next level isn't something Gouard is taking lightly.

"These are players I've never seen before — never played with and never played against," Gouard said. "There are going to be bigger and stronger players whenever I leave."

Gouard departs for Rochester, Mich., later this month to start her collegiate career. Once there, she'll not only be a Division I athlete, but also immersed in another group of fresh faces.

"I'm so, so, so excited to get up there," Gouard said. "I'm in a group chat with all the girls. ... We've been talking about how we want to get up there earlier so we can be with each other longer."