PHILO — It was in the spring of 2007.
An email was received from a concerned News-Gazette reader. She wanted the sports department to know about this hotshot basketball player.
“You’ll be writing about her,” the writer predicted.
She was extolling the virtues of a fifth-grade girl who attended St. Thomas School in Philo.
Mary Miebach knew what she was talking about. That player — her granddaughter, Randa Harshbarger — has grown up (to almost 5 feet, 5 inches) to be an outstanding high school basketball player.
Grandma followed up with emails periodically, like this one when Harshbarger was in seventh grade.
“I can hardly wait for you guys to see Randa Harshbarger play,” Miebach wrote. “I don’t know if you have read the ‘Defining Toughness in College Hoops,’ by Jay Bilas of ESPN.com. He writes a great article and even though I am her grandmother, she is TOUGH.”
Now a junior point guard at St. Thomas More, Harshbarger headlines The News-Gazette All-Area team as Player of the Year. The honor comes more than six years after Miebach’s prediction of greatness.
“I saw something special in her in third grade, when she wanted to play so bad,” Miebach said. “You could see the energy she put toward it. She kept reaching out for more as she got older. She had that spark.”
It’s a good thing others willingly talk about Harshbarger and her achievements. A National Honor Society member, she prefers to let her performance speak for her.
She is happiest when those around her can match her passion for the game.
“I like playing with girls that love the sport like I do,” Harshbarger said.
That, in itself, is a problem.
“I don’t know if I have ever coached anyone at any level that loves the game of basketball as much as this young lady,” St. Thomas More coach Chris Mennig said. “Her passion is infectious.”
Her main talking points don’t center around the actual points she scores.
“I would rather play defense than score on offense,” she said.
That attitude makes her endearing to her teammates.
“Her lack of ego makes her someone that you want as your teammate,” Mennig said. “I personally don’t know if I had her kind of game that I could be so humble.”
Randy Harshbarger and his high school sweetheart, Patty Miebach, were athletes at Unity High School, but they don’t take credit for their youngest child’s development in sports.
“She is better than both of us put together,” Randy Harshbarger said.
“As far as her intensity, I was never as committed as she is,” Patty Harshbarger said. “As far as her ability, that’s God’s doing.”
It didn’t hurt that the Harshbargers live in an area where “there’s a neighborhood of boys,” Patty Harshbarger said, “and she has a lot of boy cousins. She played right along.”
In addition to Randa’s older brother Hayden — a senior track athlete at STM — Kendal Eckert, Colton James, Brady Nelson, Zack Thorson and Alex Thorson are among the others from the neighborhood for which Patty Harshbarger is thankful.
“When I see them now, I give them credit,” she said. “Every day, they’d come knocking on the door. They might have a baseball, a basketball or a football. They were going to get a game going of some kind.”
Randa Harshbarger has dabbled in volleyball and softball, still runs track and plans to return to cross-country in the fall. Basketball, however, is the sport she always considers in season.
“Ever since fourth grade, I’ve been die-hard basketball,” she said.
As her interest grew, she was not only able to attend camps but also to watch Illini games. Grandma Miebach helped make it happen.
“Her mom and dad were working, and I was available (to drive),” Mary Miebach said. “I wanted to see her do that, and Randa has a burning desire that keeps her going.”
Mennig said what happened before Harshbarger enrolled at STM is perhaps more significant than the improvements she has made during the past three seasons.
“Randa is the perfect example of the ‘10,000-hour rule,’ from the book, ‘Outliers,’ ” Mennig said. “She is someone that has been touching a basketball since a very young age. Every chance she had to be in a gym, she did it.
“That is a large reason why she is finding success today. You can’t crash-course this sport and think you can get to the level of play she has achieved. It was all of those hours, days and years before she came to STM that put her in a position to achieve this kind of success.
“We have just been polishing and adding a few more tricks up her sleeve since joining our program.”
On a high school team that includes two other All-Area first-teamers, 6-4 Tori McCoy and 5-11 Lexi Wallen, the 5-5 Harshbarger is not the first person who’s noticed when the team enters a gym.
Her size helps fuel her drive.
“I’ve had comments, ‘You’re short; you can’t do that because you’re smaller,’ but it has never had an effect on me,” Harshbarger said. “I tell them, ‘I will at least try.’ ”
Her grandmother helped reinforce that belief, offering this piece of advice when facing taller opponents.
“I told her, ‘Don’t let that bother you. You can go under their arms and be gone,’ ” Mary Miebach said.
As a fourth-grader at St. Thomas, Harshbarger was promoted to the school’s sixth-grade team. She hasn’t slowed down.
“As people said I could have potential, it motivated me to see what I could become,” Harshbarger said.
Her childhood dream, she said, “is to play at the UI,” but she acknowledges as she is “waiting patiently” to hear from the UI staff, that goal could be a long shot.
“My fundamental skills are down,” Harshbarger said. “It’s more my physicality that will restrict me.”
Harshbarger set school records this season for assists and steals. She also averaged in double figures and was a fierce defender.
“Good players become great when they can raise the level of play for those around them,” Mennig said. “Randa has taken pride in that aspect of her game. This past season has shown her ability to put the ball in the basket when it was needed.
“That is a sign of a true point guard as her basketball IQ has matured dramatically since walking through our doors. I would describe her on the floor as a waterbug. She is everywhere. She has an engine that doesn’t run out of gas, and it looks effortless.”
Even her dad finds himself marveling at what he sees.
“It’s kind of surprising,” Randy Harshbarger said, “the decisions she makes and the moves she comes up with. She can do almost anything.”
Harshbarger’s court demeanor is exemplary.
“I’ve never seen her get upset or mad at someone, and that is amazing,” Patty Harshbarger said. “When I played, I had a lot of gripes.”
Whether she is in a game, or at home, Randa Harshbarger is the same.
“What you see on the court is what she is off the court,” Patty Harshbarger said. “She is pretty reserved and quiet. She’s not one who needs a lot of the spotlight. She loves having good teammates and having girls who are out there for the same reason.”
When the teenager has free time — which isn’t often for someone who’s in the Spanish Club, the Math Club and Interact — she’d rather hang around home than at the mall.
“She doesn’t like to go shopping a lot,” Patty Harshbarger said. “She’d rather play a game in the front yard. We’ve never had an ounce of problems with her.”
Randa Harshbarger is named after a 40-year-old uncle (Rando Roy) who died of cancer before her parents were married. Her middle name, Margaret, is for her grandmother, Mary Margaret Miebach.
Some people mistakenly call her Ronda, though others intentionally use another name.
“Some fans like to call her ‘Rondo’ after the Celtics’ do-it-all point guard,” Mennig said, referring to Rajon Rondo.
Grandma Miebach can take pleasure in the knowledge of recognizing the special talent years ago.
After the Sabers placed second in last month’s Class 2A state tournament, she sent another email.
“Didn’t I tell you a long time ago you would be hearing and writing about her?” Miebach wrote. “Just wait ’til next year when we go for all of it again.”
All-Area First Team
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS.
Stacia Simmons Centennial Sr. 5-7 G
Randa Harshbarger St. Thomas More Jr. 5-5 G
Chelsea Cross Centennial Sr. 5-10 F
Lexi Wallen St. Thomas More So. 5-11 F
Tori McCoy St. Thomas More Fr. 6-4 C
Kandie Bloch Argenta-Oreana Sr. 6-0 F
Hannah Wascher Rantoul Sr. 6-0 C
Laura Litchfield Champaign Central Sr. 5-8 G
Devin Curry Watseka Jr. 5-6 G
Katelynn Martinez Centennial Sr. 5-6 G
All-Area Second Team
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS
Sierra Bell Schlarman Fr. 5-9 G
Jade Brinkoetter St. Thomas More Sr. 5-6 G
Taylor Edwards Arcola So. 5-7 F
Brittany Hay Georgetown-Ridge Farm Jr. 5-6 G
Alexus Jimson-Miller Danville Sr. 5-6 G
Chantal Meacham Centennial Sr. 5-9 G
Maggie Schmidt Mahomet-Seymour Jr. 5-10 G
Lizzy Smith Villa Grove Sr. 5-8 G
Haley Toohill Clinton Jr. 5-4 G
Erin Weaver Tuscola Sr. 5-10 F
All-Area Special Mention
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS.
Jamison Brandt Blue Ridge Jr. 5-9 F
Zsayla Brummett Centennial Jr. 5-7 G
Leslee Chambers Judah Christian Jr. 5-8 G
Caitlin Cole Fisher Jr. 6-2 C
Laura Crane Prairie Central Jr. 5-10 F
Arionna Gant Cerro Gordo/Bement/D-W Sr. 6-0 F
Haley Ginger Clinton So. 5-6 G
Maya Green Georgetown-Ridge Farm Sr. 5-7 G
Callan Hall Georgetown-Ridge Farm Sr. 5-8 F
Courtney Helm Villa Grove Sr. 5-8 F
Ashley Hoffman Westville Sr. 5-6 G
Shelby Holzinger Hoopeston Area Jr. 5-11 C
Emma Hoyer Urbana Uni High Sr. 6-0 F
Allison Kaper Watseka Sr. 6-0 F
Ashley Landis St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-7 G
Kristina Lee Judah Christian Jr. 5-10 G
Janelle Marion Schlarman So. 5-7 G
Autumn Meyer Tri-County Sr. 5-3 G
Asia Morrison Sullivan Sr. 5-9 G
Lauren Russell LeRoy Sr. 5-8 G
Karidia Shelby Urbana Sr. 5-10 F
Erika Sieberns Armstrong-Potomac Sr. 6-0 C
Morgan Small Iroquois West Jr. 5-7 G
Shelby Smith Shiloh Sr. 5-5 G
Addison Stoller Cissna Park Fr. 5-7 G
Ashley Tabb Arthur-Lovington/A-H Sr. 5-4 G
Erica Wallen St. Thomas More Sr. 5-9 F
Brooke Walsh Bismarck-Henning So. 5-10 F
Amanda Ypya Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. 5-7 G
Morgan Zindars Armstrong-Potomac Jr. 5-5 G
All-Area Honorable Mention
ARCOLA — Cara Edwards, Sr.; Rachel Fishel, Sr.
ARGENTA-OREANA — Katelynn Mullins, Jr.
ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC — Rachel Miles, Jr.; Kirsten Newnum, Sr.
ARTHUR-LOVINGTON/ATWOOD-HAMMOND — Karly Goodman, Jr.; Emily Seegmiller, So.
ARTHUR OKAW CHRISTIAN — Hanna Erwin, Jr.; Kami Taber, Sr.
BISMARCK-HENNING — Lexi Ballard, Sr.; Addie Voyles, Jr.; Maddie Winkler, Jr.
BUCKLEY CHRIST LUTHERAN — Andrea DeBella, Jr.; Olivia Janssen, Jr.
BLUE RIDGE — Gabby Pearl, So.
CENTENNIAL — Lauren Cloyd, Sr.; Jasmine Kyler, Jr.
CERRO GORDO/BEMENT/DeLAND-WELDON — Stephanie Shook, So.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Johynn-A Evans, Sr.
CHRISMAN — Sarah Ellis, Jr.; Shelby Warner, Fr.
CISSNA PARK — Alexis Knake, So.; Kaitlyn Redeker, Sr.
CLINTON — Morgan Hickman, Sr.; Jessica Scott, So.; Megan Tool, So.
DANVILLE — Michaela Jones, So.
FIRST BAPTIST — Hannah Wells, So.; Rachel Wells, Sr.
FISHER — Sydney Blackwell, Jr.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM — Catie Brandt, Sr.; Kayla Wolpert, So.
GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY — Katie Massey, Sr.
HERITAGE — Dallas McCormick, Sr.
HOOPESTON AREA — Haley Dixon, So.; Olivia Smith, Sr.
IROQUOIS WEST — Courtney Conrad, Sr.; Taylor Cultra, So.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Alex Grady, Sr.
LeROY — Shannon Steffen, Sr.; Kelsey Walker, So.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Kristen Belyea, Sr.; Hannah Charter, Sr.
MILFORD — Kylie Thrush, Jr.; Samantha Wilken, Sr.
MONTICELLO — Layne Buzan, So.
OAKWOOD — Sadie Edwards, So.; Harlena Hardin, Sr.; Taylor McGlaughlin, Sr.
PAXTON-BUCKLEY-LODA — Kandace Hofer, Sr.; Erin Lemley, Sr.
PRAIRIE CENTRAL — Kiana Coomber, Fr.; Gabby Weber, Sr.; Jordyn Weber, Sr.
RANTOUL — Jasmine Riggs, So.
RIDGEVIEW — Jenna Ayers, Sr.; Paige Jones, Jr.
SALT FORK — Jenny Kimbro, Fr.; Kalyn Learnard, So.; Emilie McFadden, Jr.; Toria Plotner, Sr.; Taylor Vice, Sr.
SCHLARMAN — Ella Black, Sr.; Sydne Bryant, Sr.; Holly Huckstadt, Jr.
SHILOH — Lauren Moses, Jr.; Morgan Wood, Sr.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Ashley Beals, Sr.; Tori Master, Sr.; Bailey Trimble, Sr.
ST. THOMAS MORE — Elayna Kramer, Sr.; Courtney Wax, Jr.
SULLIVAN — Brittin Boyer, So.; Emily Neuhauser, So.
TRI-COUNTY — Amber Meyer, Sr.
TUSCOLA — Amber Miller, Sr.
UNITY — Kennedy Hartman, Sr.; Rebecca Maxwell, So.
URBANA — Jessica Mack, Sr.
URBANA UNI HIGH — Madeleine Nelson, Fr.; Kaila Simpson, Sr.; Juliana Trach, Sr.
VILLA GROVE — Kayla Dowler, Sr.
WATSEKA — Taylor Bauer, So.; Natalie Castonguay, So.; Hayley Gray, Jr.
WESTVILLE — Dani Gabehart, Sr.; Carson Richardson, Sr.
All-Area Girls’ Basketball Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL
2013 Randa Harshbarger St. Thomas More
2012 Jamie Blue Urbana Uni High
2011 Lauren Bogle Shiloh
2010 Amy Martin Oakwood
2009 Hannah Ohl Bismarck-Henning
2008 Mandy Kirby Urbana
2007 Ashley Runck St. Joseph-Ogden
2006 Allie Lindemann Champaign Central
2005 Kendra Donley Mahomet-Seymour
2004 Candi McGee Heritage
2003 Anne Parrett Centennial
2002 LaToya Bond Urbana
2001 Beth Burke Salt Fork
2000 April Seggebruch CPCI
1999 Kandy Lindsey Bismarck-Henning
1998 Yolanda Smith Rantoul
1997 Missy Barrett Shiloh
1996 Missy Barrett Shiloh
1995 Allyson Glazebrook Sullivan
1994 Allyson Glazebrook Sullivan
1993 Karen Bloch Argenta-Oreana
1992 Traci Butler Chrisman
1991 Becky Clayton Sullivan
1990 Courtney Porter Shiloh
1989 Courtney Porter Shiloh
1988 Karrie Redeker Crescent-Iroquois
All-Area Girls’ Basketball Coaches of the Year
2013 Chris Mennig St. Thomas More
2012 Danielle Cooley LeRoy
N-G Final Top 10
1. Centennial 30-4
2. STM 32-3
3. Clinton 25-6
4. Watseka 26-7
5. St. Joseph-O. 21-9
6. Iroquois W. 22-10
7. Danville 17-11
8. Central 16-12
9. LeRoy 20-10
10. Sullivan 19-10
NEAR MISSES: Armstrong-Potomac, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Schlarman, Shiloh, Unity, Villa Grove