CHAMPAIGN – As Fisher coach Deon Mennenga was cutting down the net after the Bunnies' 53-37 sectional championship win against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, a couple hundred orange-clad fans made their way to the floor in Parkland's gym.
Kids asked for autographs. Adults jumped around and celebrated as if they had just played. Most players already had slipped on their "Elite Eight" T-shirts.
About the only thing missing was Jared Hayden looking into a camera and proclaiming he was going to DisneyWorld.
"To beat our archrivals, this is a dream come true. Couldn't have written it any better," said Hayden, who scored a team-high 15 points. "Coach just kept telling us, 'Work toward regionals, work toward regionals.' We did that and now we've won sectionals, too. It's pretty exciting."
It's exciting for the players and exciting for the Fisher community. Friday's win marked the first sectional championship in school history after winning a regional title for the first time since 1988. Mennenga couldn't put into words what Friday's win meant.
"I might have to call you in a couple of days and let you know," Mennenga said. "It's overwhelming right now. I can't describe the feeling. I've grown up in the state of Illinois watching the state tournament, and now I get to be a part of it. These kids will remember this for the rest of their lives."
The win was a total team effort for the Bunnies, who got 14 points from Sam Estes and a double- double (14 points, 13 rebounds) from Mitch Elkins. Elkins, Fisher's leading scorer, went to the bench with three fouls late in the second quarter, but the Bunnies didn't miss a beat. They went on a 6-0 run after Elkins sat down thanks to a layup by Hayden and a pair of buckets from junior Jacob Browning (10 points).
"It's just the way the flow of the game went. They got me the ball, I faced up and they went in," Browning said.
"Mitch is our best scorer, but when he went out we all just came together," Hayden said. "Everybody played good. It was a good thing."
When Mennenga took over the Fisher program he said from the outset he wanted to build a perennial winner. A sectional title and a berth in the Elite Eight in Year 3 is proof he's on to something.
"To tell you the truth, I'm probably ahead of schedule a little bit," Mennenga said. "We'll take it as it comes. I knew this was going to be a special group, and we knew we had to get it done."