CHAMPAIGN — Chelsea Cross, Jasmine Kyler and Stacia Simmons spent Saturday afternoon making memories on Centennial’s basketball court.
Laura Ramshaw Baker, Centennial’s first 1,000-point career scorer, spent her afternoon at the same facility, reliving memories.
While the current, state-ranked Chargers moved a step closer to their third consecutive outright Big 12 championship with a 68-37 conquest of Urbana, Centennial alums reflected on the past while getting an up-close look at the state’s No. 4 Class 3A team.
There was a lot to like, starting with Kyler’s 15-point effort off the bench, continuing with Simmons’ 11-point, three-steal, three-assist performance and including Cross’ game-high 12 rebounds.
“They’re fun to watch,” 1983 graduate Baker said. “They work at it, and they know how to play together. They don’t try and hot-dog it.”
With defense setting the tone (forcing 12 first-quarter turnovers), the Chargers started on an 8-0 run and never trailed.
Laura Ramshaw’s name is prominent in Centennial’s all-time list of career leaders. She still holds the single-game record for rebounds (26). She likes how coach Susan Thomas’ squad runs with a purpose.
“Their passing is really solid, and they watch to see if they have a fast break,” Baker said. “You can tell that has been drilled into them.”
Former Centennial coach Tim Fairchild organizes the annual alumni reunion at a Saturday game. He has a different view from the stands than from the sidelines, and he admitted, “There are some mixed emotions.
“I miss (it) a lot, but I don’t miss the long hours and the bus trips.”
Fairchild, who headed the girls’ basketball program for 29 years, appreciates how Thomas’ team works together.
“I like the way they share the ball,” he said. “They play good team ball. They have a lot of kids who seem to understand the game.”
As Fairchild watches the game, he sees children of people he coached in basketball or cross-country or — as in the case of Simmons’ father, Larry — “that I used to open the gym up for.”
Lauren Cloyd and Zsayla Brummett are other Chargers whose parents Fairchild worked with in a different generation.
“I’m glad to see them doing so well,” he said.
Few people are happier than Thomas, whose squad is 23-3. In particular, she pinpointed the defense — which Fairchild said “wears people down.”
Said Thomas: “We’re fine with our defense being our first offense. Our defensive effort is what starts our motor. There have been several games where we weren’t able to force the turnovers, and we’re capable of executing in the halfcourt.”
Two of Centennial’s first six baskets were on steals, helping the team finish above 50 percent accuracy on its shooting (29 of 56). Every starter made at least half of her shots, and Kyler turned in a 6-for-7 showing.
“We need her to give us great minutes,” Thomas said, referring to her typical first substitution. “We’re working on making her more physical and able to handle more physicality.”
Urbana’s Jessica Mack scored a game-high 17 points. Karidia Shelby led the Tigers with seven rebounds.