DeLAND – Nestled along the north side of Illinois 10, 23 miles west of Champaign, is a high school many passers-by have seen en route to other destinations, such as Clinton Lake.
Brielle Jones is doing her part to make DeLand-Weldon High School a stopping point.
The 6-foot freshman is on pace to break the all-time IHSA record for blocked shots in a basketball season. She added six more to her total Thursday as the Eagles dropped a 62-30 decision to Urbana University High in an East Central Illinois Conference contest.
The soft-spoken and unassuming Jones has rejected 197 shots this season – twice blocking a state-record 21 in a game. She is one of 19 girls who attend D-W. Nine are on the basketball team.
Her presence in the middle of the Eagles' zone makes her a factor even when she's not swatting away opponents' attempts.
"It's not just the blocks," D-W coach Jason Vicich said. "It's the shots she alters."
Vicich expected Jones and the team's other freshman starter, Tayler Neumann, to be immediate impact players.
"Their class is so small, most of their life they've played against boys," Vicich said.
Even now, that pattern continues. His girls' team routinely scrimmages against the D-W boys' squad. Sophomore Jesse Hood, the sixth man for the boys, recalled his thoughts during a recent practice.
"I got around Kassie (Deedrick) on the break and saw Brielle and said, 'I'm not going down there,' " Hood said.
He learned from his experience. In an earlier workout, Hood had one of his inside shots sent onto the stage.
Though Jones was promoted to the eighth-grade team as a fifth-grader, she said, "I didn't expect this," about her varsity success.
Jones is projected as the cornerstone of a building program. Despite her youth, she's already considered a team leader.
"She's what keeps us together," Deedrick said. "I don't feel as strong without her by my side."
Sophomore Hannah Day said Jones "pumps up the team the way she plays. I've never seen anyone play quite like her under the hoop."
Jones had 12 points and eight rebounds against Uni. Day and Neumann each scored eight points.
Jones stands fifth on the state list for blocks in a season and needs 28 more to surpass the 2001 mark set by Fenwick's Sarah Kwasinski. D-W has six games remaining.
Vicich doesn't expect the D-W struggles to continue.
"As they get older and play against kids their age, it will be a different world," he said. "My best three players are two freshmen and a sophomore.
"We've had moments, but we've had moments where our inexperience shows."
The Eagles are 1-17 overall.
Uni High, 5-1 in ECIC games, starts four seniors with junior Rachel Skoza, who had 16 points and 16 rebounds.
The Illineks also had solid contributions from Aran Yoo (14 points, seven steals and two as-sists) and Jessi Sullivan (10 points on 5-of-8 shooting).
A rebound basket by Skoza – one of four she had – lifted Uni into the lead for good, 4-3, 42 seconds into the game.
"We wanted to play hard, build a lead and work through some different rotations," Uni coach Rebecca Murphy said. "We executed a variety of halfcourt offenses and ran the transition relatively well."