LeRoy set for state tip

Fred Kroner's Class 1A girls' storylines for LeRoy's state tournament debut today

(12:15 p.m.) vs. Freeport Aquin at Redbird Arena:

The favorite

Perhaps it could be Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City, which reached the state semifinals in 2010 (placing fourth). The Hornets are also the highest-ranked team (second) entering this afternoon's semifinals at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena. However, a strong case could be made for calling LeRoy's Panthers the team to beat. In the super-sectional, LeRoy KO'd the school ranked first during the last five 1A state polls. "That victory gave us additional confidence and solidified that we can compete with anyone," LeRoy coach Danielle Cooley said.

Who will it be?

Panther seniors Molly Marcum and Ashley Walker, who collectively are averaging 34.6 points and 14.8 rebounds per game, will undoubtedly be the focus of attention for Freeport Aquin. Marcum holds season and career school records for rebounds and blocked shots. Other players will need to emerge as key contributors like junior Lauren Russell did in the team's three-point super-sectional triumph. In the Panthers' first 29 games, she scored in double figures four times. Against Annawan, Russell nailed a varsity-high 13 points.

Sizing it up

LeRoy's tallest player is the 5-foot-10 Marcum. However, she is more of a perimeter player than a post player. For Aquin, a school with an enrollment of 93 students, the leader is 6-foot junior Sophie Brunner. She has led or shared team scoring honors in all 34 of its games and was chosen as an all-state first-teamer this week. "The past three games," Cooley said, "there have been big post players, and our team has rallied behind our post players and played hard."

A time to relax

The first three stages of the postseason — the regionals, the sectionals and the super-sectionals — presented all teams with a one-and-done format. At state, this changes. There is not another tournament that any school is seeking to reach, and all four teams are guaranteed a Saturday trophy game. "I told the girls (before the Annawan game), if we could win one more, all the pressure would be lifted," Cooley said. "We are a Final Four team. We just need to go out there, have fun and play hard."

Kudos all around

Ranking teams statewide can be a difficult and daunting task. Trying to evaluate teams on strength of schedules and how they're playing requires work and effort on the part of the voters who participate in the weekly challenge. Whatever opinion a person has on the rankings and their value, there's no doubt media members "got it right" in respect to the Class 1A girls' teams. Of the four state qualifiers, none was ranked lower than fifth in the final poll. Top-ranked Annawan is missing only because of a super-sectional loss to third-rated LeRoy. Joining second-rated Cowden Herrick/Beecher City and the Panthers at state are No. 4 Freeport Aquin and No. 5 Illini Bluffs.

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