Illineks get back on map in big way
URBANA — The list of Champaign-Urbana's top girls' basketball programs during the past decade is decidedly one-sided.
The success rate has been greatest west of Wright Street, where Champaign schools Centennial, Central, Judah Christian and St. Thomas More have all had 20-win seasons and won regional championships within the past two years.
Neither Urbana high school can make that claim, though Uni High came close with a school-record 19 wins last season in Allie Lindemann's first year as head coach.
And yet, when the preseason state rankings were released — as well as the first News-Gazette area rankings — three of the four Champaign schools were mentioned, but neither Urbana school made the list.
"Uni girls' basketball has been underappreciated," said senior Jamie Blue, a four-year starter for the Illineks.
That should be changing.
If the recent win against state-ranked Shiloh wasn't an eye-opener, how about a 7-0 start that was secured Thursday following a 59-46 nonconference win against Villa Grove at Kenney Gymnasium?
"Anything is possible," said Abby Radnitzer, Uni High's other senior starter.
There's good reason to believe in the Illineks. Blue and Emma Hoyer each had double-doubles against the Blue Devils. The team made nearly half of its field goal attempts (22 of 45) and held the rebounding edge, 36-22.
"If we stay healthy and keep improving, there's a lot of potential," Lindemann said. "I see a good future."
Blue scored 12 of her game-high 19 points in the opening quarter as the Illineks doubled the score, 16-8. She made all five of her shots from the field. Jaki Vipond scored 10 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, which started with Uni holding a 34-28 lead. The sophomore also hit five consecutive shots.
For the senior class — which also includes the top guard reserve, Sarah Sutter — this is the first year since they reached ninth grade to have the same head coach in consecutive seasons.
"Before it was always like rebuilding," Radnitzer said. "Now, we can run similar plays that we know. All of the starters are back, and there's a lot of good, young talent."
Blue, who grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, and Hoyer, who had 11 boards, played on the same summer travel team. Vipond also played travel ball but with a different group.
"Our (Uni High) team got back in the swing of things quickly," Blue said.
Though Blue is a varsity veteran, she said this promises to be a special season.
"It's so awesome to play with my own class and the one underneath me," she said. "We feel comfortable with each other."
While Blue has been a fixture in the lineup throughout her prep career, Radnitzer's contributions have come more recently.
"I started JV as a freshman," she said, "and that was a good fit for me. I didn't know what to do much. Now I know the game better, and I'm a lot more comfortable."
Her leadership shows, Lindemann said, in her hustle.
"She's always doing the little things and getting after every loose ball," the coach said.
Blue is not just a steady scorer but someone who "crashes the boards," Lindemann said.
Two free throws by Hoyer at the 2:54 mark of the first quarter lifted Uni High into an 8-7 lead, and Villa Grove never caught up.
The Blue Devils (3-4) were led by three juniors — Kayla Dowler (15 points), Lizzy Smith (14 points) and Courtney Helm (11 points) — who teamed up for all but six of the team's points and all but five of the rebounds. Smith had seven boards, and Helm handled six.
N-G Top 10
TEAM (PREVIOUS) W-L COMMENT
1. Centennial (1) 6-0 Five players have scored in double figures
2. STM (2) 6-1 Six players have scored in double figures
3. St. Joseph-O. (3) 5-0 Three players have scored in double figures
4. Champaign Central (4) 5-1 Five players have scored in double figures
5. Bismarck-H. (5) 5-2 Five players have scored in double figures
6. Watseka (6) 6-1 Four players have scored in double figures
7. Urbana Uni High (NR) 7-0 Three players have scored in double figures
8. Tuscola (8) 3-0 Three players have scored in double figures
9. LeRoy (9) 8-1 Five players have scored in double figures
10. Shiloh (7) 5-1 Three players have scored in double figures