It’s not universally true for area girls’ basketball programs, but many coaches are dealing with declining numbers.
Some schools have had to abandon a junior varsity schedule.
The participation level appears to have little correlation with a particular team’s prospects. Armstrong-Potomac is one of the teams to beat in the Vermilion Valley. The school has 10 girls playing basketball, and coach Nick Hipsher said, “We will be doing a modified JV schedule when our girls are healthy.”
Heritage doesn’t have more than three players in any class, numbering 11 in all. The Hawks tried to play a junior varsity schedule (some with shortened quarters) the first semester, but that will change.
“We are about to lose one sophomore due to surgery,” coach Kami White said. “Less and less girls are playing basketball. This is definitely an unfortunate trend I have seen in our state. Basketball is the hardest of all girls’ sports, other than soccer, and girls would rather play sports that are less intense.”
Bloomington Central Catholic is one of the top teams in the Corn Belt. The Saints, however, had three freshman girls decide to play basketball, and coach Debbie Coffman said, “We had to cancel freshman games this year.”
Clinton has one of the premier teams in the Okaw Valley, yet from freshmen through seniors the total number of active players is 14.
El Paso-Gridley was the unanimous choice as the team to beat in the Heart of Illinois. The team’s entire roster for all four grade levels is 16 players.
Arthur Okaw Christian started its program in 2010 but faces the lowest turnout (eight players) this season. Buckley Christ Lutheran hopes to get through the season with a seven-player roster. Another school in the East Central Illinois Conference, Decatur Christian, has eight players thanks to the efforts of coach Mike Houran.
“I had to literally go into the halls and get girls to play,” Houran said. “Numbers are down due to the team not winning a game last year.”
Coaches offer a variety of reasons why participation levels are low.
“Basketball is a very difficult sport,” Blue Ridge coach Stephanie Schroeder said. “I feel like a lot of athletes are choosing to participate in one sport instead of more than one.”
Schroeder has 13 players this season, a total that includes one senior and three juniors.
Hoopeston Area has 16 total players. Just three are freshmen. “A few girls didn’t go out because of club volleyball,” coach Clint Mathewson said.
Shiloh, which was ranked among Class 1A’s Top 10 in the preseason, has a roster of 14.
Tuscola has 17 players, but the future looks bright because 12 of them are freshmen or sophomores.
“Many girls are gravitating toward club and travel teams, which unfortunately often precludes playing on a school team,” Warriors coach Tim Kohlbecker said. “Plus, basketball is at times a lot of work compared to a sport like softball, and it is a long season. Not everyone has the desire needed.
“Traveling softball also seriously hinders summer (basketball) participation due to many girls traveling every weekend, which leaves coaches trying to find shootouts during weekdays.”
Newly formed co-ops have provided a boost. The Cerro Gordo/Bement/DeLand-Weldon squad has 30 prospects, 14 from CG and 14 from Bement.
Thirteen of those players are freshmen and — unlike many small schools — the Broncos will play a varsity, JV and freshman schedule.
At nearby Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond, six athletes who started for their respective teams last year are playing. Overall, 11 of the 22 team members are juniors.
In contrast to what seems to be a pattern at the smaller schools, Champaign Central coach Martin Pazanin said, “We had to cut at all three levels.”
He wound up keeping more than 30 players involved with basketball.
St. Joseph-Ogden’s and Normal Community’s numbers grew this season. Thanks to an influx of 12 freshmen, Normal Community has 33 total players in basketball. Last year’s turnout was 20. SJ-O had a similar rise, improving from 20 last winter to 32.
Westville’s numbers also have improved, expanding from 11 last year to 19 this season.
Champaign Central junior Cidnee Sheehan started the Maroons’ first six games but is sidelined for the remainder of the season. She suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Bloomington on Dec. 1 in Central’s home opener.
The 5-foot-6 Sheehan and senior Laura Litchfield are the lone Maroons to have scored at least 20 points in a game this season. At the time of her injury, Sheehan was the team leader in three-pointers with nine.
A-O star seeks milestone
State high jump champion Kandie Bloch, from Argenta-Oreana, is trying to average a double-double for the fourth consecutive season. The 6-foot senior is the area’s top scorer (25.1 average) through 10 games and needs 175 rebounds to reach 1,000 in her career. Bloch, who has Division I scholarship offers in track, recently surpassed the 1,500-point mark for career scoring.
First practice sidelines player
Clinton was “25 minutes into practice No. 1,” according to coach Josh Williams, when Lizzie Neal suffered a season-ending injury. She broke her tibia “while landing after a layup,” Williams said.
Five Arthur-Lovington basketball players were starters on the volleyball team that advanced to the sectional finals: Sherelle Coller, Karly Goodman, Emily Seegmiller, Ashley Tabb and Brooke Tabb. Ashley Tabb scored her 1,000th point Dec. 10 with her first basket against Okaw Valley.
She is the fourth player from Arthur to reach 1,000 points since 1998, joining Staci Kingery (1,839 points), Elise Wildman (1,362) and Lydia Benson (1,035).
Tabb is second to Kingery in career steals. She has 323 and needs 132 to pass Kingery.
Surgery for Heritage player
Sophomore Michaela Childress will undergo shoulder surgery to repair an injury that first occurred last year. “We’ll miss her tenacity on the court,” Heritage coach Kami White said.
Childress played in the Hawks’ first 12 games and scored a game-high 16 points against Oakwood.
The news is better for senior guard Dallas McCormick. After hitting 7 of 7 free throws against Arthur-Lovington, McCormick’s accuracy rate for the season is 73.3 percent. The school record for free throw shooting (76 percent) is held by Candi McGee.
Spartans continue success
Four years ago, Jeff Finis coached St. Joseph to a state runner-up finish in the Class 3A IESA state tournament. Four players from that team are now seniors with the varsity, which is under the direction of first-year coach Finis: Ashley Beals, Delaine Florey, Ashley Landis and Tori Master.
“Coming into this position new this year from junior high, I was excited that I was going to have some of my girls returning that played in the eighth-grade championship game,” Finis said. “The summer gave me a good indication of how we were going to do.”
SJ-O was 16-4 during the summer and is off to a 10-2 start this winter.
On the move
Tuscola’s Erin Weaver scored her 1,000th point earlier this month and has moved into eighth on the school’s career scoring chart. If she maintains her current average (16.7) she could move up to fifth by season’s end. Tuscola’s top four career scorers are Janeen Sutherland (2000 graduate), Tisha Little (1990 graduate), Susan Harris (1988 graduate) and Kendra Blaudow (1992 graduate).
Weaver is also seventh in career rebounding and could advance behind fourth. The Warriors’ top three all time are Harris, Andrea Wax and Lindsay Troike (2011 graduate).
Cerro Gordo’s Arionna Gant entered her senior season holding school records for blocks in a game, blocks in a season and blocks in a career. She is closing in on a record that has stood for more than three decades: career rebounding. The standard is 828, set by 1981 graduate Jackie Pflum. Gant needs 60 rebounds to break the mark. ... Former Urbana Uni High athlete Jaki Vipond transferred to Centennial and is getting time at guard in a reserve role. ... Danville’s final pre-Christmas game, a victory against Decatur MacArthur, was the ninth for the Vikings, which enabled the school to match its win total from last season. ... Decatur Eisenhower’s top player, senior guard Shay Robinson, has orally committed to Parkland College. ... After a 1-4 start against Class 2A and 3A opponents, LeRoy won eight of its next nine games. ... Rantoul senior forward Kalista Lutes sings the national anthem before the Eagles’ home games. Rantoul’s Hannah Wascher has scored 1,423 career points. ... Ridgeview point guard Jenna Ayers has signed with Olivet Nazarene, where she will play soccer. She is the area leader in assists, averaging 5.8 per game. ... St. Thomas More junior Randa Harshbarger has 358 career steals, and each one she gets during the next 11/2 years will add to her school-record total. The previous mark (327) was held by 2006 graduate Jenny Yanik. Harshbarger broke the record earlier this season. ... Schlarman’s starting point guard is a freshman, Sierra Bell. She had 20 points vs. Milford.
Girls’ basketball players to watch heading into the new year, courtesy prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner:
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS.
Kandie Bloch Argenta-Oreana Sr. 6-0 F
Jamison Brandt Blue Ridge Jr. 5-9 F
Jade Brinkoetter St. Thomas More Sr. 5-6 G
Leslee Chambers Judah Christian Jr. 5-8 G
Caitlin Cole Fisher Jr. 6-2 C
Chelsea Cross Centennial Sr. 5-10 F
Devin Curry Watseka Jr. 5-6 G
Taylor Edwards Arcola So. 5-7 F
Arionna Gant Cerro Gordo Sr. 6-0 F
Randa Harshbarger St. Thomas More Jr. 5-5 G
Callan Hall Georgetown-Ridge Farm Sr. 5-8 F
Kennedy Hartman Unity Sr. 5-6 G
Brittany Hay Georgetown-Ridge Farm Jr. 5-6 G
Courtney Helm Villa Grove Sr. 5-8 F
Morgan Hickman Clinton Sr. 5-7 F
Ashley Hoffman Westville Sr. 5-6 G
Shelby Holzinger Hoopeston Area Jr. 5-10 C
Emma Hoyer Urbana Uni High Sr. 6-0 F
Alexus Jimson-Miller Danville Sr. 5-6 G
Paige Jones Ridgeview Jr. 5-7 F
Lexi Knake Cissna Park So. 5-7 G
Ashley Landis St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-7 G
Kristina Lee Judah Christian Jr. 5-10 G
Erin Lemley Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. 5-10 F
Laura Litchfield Champaign Central Sr. 5-8 G
Janelle Marion Schlarman Jr. 5-7 F
Katelynn Martinez Centennial Sr. 5-6 G
Chantal Meacham Centennial Sr. 5-9 G
Amber Meyer Tri-County Sr. 5-7 F
Autmn Meyer Tri-County Sr. 5-3 G
Dallas McCormick Heritage Sr. 5-7 G
Tori McCoy St. Thomas More Fr. 6-4 F
Amber Miller Tuscola Sr. 5-6 G
Kaitlyn Redeker Cissna Park Sr. 5-7 G
Karidia Shelby Urbana Sr. 5-10 F
Erika Sieberns Armstrong-Potomac Sr. 6-0 C
Stacia Simmons Centennial Sr. 5-7 G
Morgan Small Iroquois West Jr. 5-7 G
Maggie Schmidt Mahomet-Seymour Jr. 5-10 G
Airiana Smith Champaign Central Fr. 5-8 G
Lizzy Smith Villa Grove Sr. 5-8 G
Shelby Smith Shiloh Sr. 5-5 G
Shannon Steffen LeRoy Sr. 5-5 G
Ashley Tabb Arthur-Lovington Sr. 5-4 G
Haley Toohill Clinton Jr. 5-4 G
Bailey Trimble St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-9 F
Lexi Wallen St. Thomas More So. 5-11 F
Hannah Wascher Rantoul Sr. 6-0 C
Erin Weaver Tuscola Sr. 5-10 F
Amanda Ypya Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. 5-7 G
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N-G Top 10
SCHOOL (previous) W-L
1. Centennial (1) 11-2
2. St. Thomas More (2) 12-1
3. Clinton (3) 13-2
4. Champaign Central (4) 8-4
5. Tuscola (5) 9-2
6. Watseka (6) 10-3
7. St. Joseph-Ogden (7) 10-2
8. Paxton-Buckley-Loda (8) 10-3
9. Danville (9) 9-2
10. Georgetown-RF (10) 10-2
NEAR MISSES: Arcola, Iroquois West, LeRoy, Mahomet-S., Ridgeview, Shiloh
Save the date
Class 1A, 2A regionals Feb. 4-8
Class 3A, 4A regionals Feb. 11-14
Class 1A, 2A sectionals Feb. 11-14
Class 3A, 4A sectionals Feb. 18-21
Class 1A, 2A super-sectionals Feb. 18
Class 3A, 4A super-sectionals Feb. 25
Class 1A, 2A state (Normal) Feb. 22-23
Class 3A, 4A state (Normal) March 1-2