Monticello girls claim first hoops regional since '05

Monticello girls claim first hoops regional since '05

CERRO GORDO — When first-year head coach Dave Beery took over the Monticello girls’ basketball program, there was plenty of adjustment for the players and the coaching staff. Beery wanted to instill a culture of winning, commitment and accountability that was lacking in previous seasons.

That meant long practices early in the season focused on an athlete’s least favorite activity: conditioning.

Beery didn’t win over the hearts and minds of his players those first few weeks in the fall of 2013.

“It was absolutely awful,” senior Allie Hislope said. “All we did was run. Coach Beery told us it wasn’t going to be easy, and it hasn’t been at all.”

But for Hislope and the Sages, it certainly has paid off.

Hislope scored a game-high 15 points in Monticello’s 40-34 win against Unity to claim a Class 2A regional championship, the program’s first since 2005.

Monticello (15-12) is also guaranteed a winning season for the first time in five seasons, another first for the Sages’ four seniors (Hislope, Chrissy Gadbury, Claire Huisinga and Samantha Rupkey) who have stuck through losing streaks and three different coaches in the last three years.

“It’s really great to be able to bounce back from some not-so-successful seasons,” Hislope said. “It’s been great playing (with) the same girls since fifth grade. It’s a really great accomplishment.”

Monticello opened with a 5-0 run and never trailed despite the margin remaining within single digits.

Unity coach Kelly Gallick employed a box-and-one defense (among other zone looks) to slow Layne Buzan, Monticello’s junior star, but other Sages stepped up. Hislope scored five points in the opening period and sophomore Janessa Pankey hit a deep three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to close the first quarter.

Buzan’s first made field goal came with three minutes left in the third quarter. She finished with 11 points, while Pankey and fellow sophomore Claire Caldwell added six apiece.

“We wanted to switch up some defenses to try to maybe throw them off any routines or patterns,” Gallick said. “They’re strong kids. They’ve got a lot of weapons. We kind of had to pick our battles.”

Junior Hannah Stone (11 points) and senior Megan Bingaman (11 points) reached double figures for the Rockets (12-13), who cut their deficit to three late on an old-fashioned three-point play by Stone, but they couldn’t get over the hump.

“Obviously, we wouldn’t like to be chasing the entire game, but our kids fought throughout the game. The problem was we just ran out of time,” Gallick said.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Sages ran to midcourt to celebrate. It was a moment the program hasn’t experienced much in the last decade, though one Beery’s team was focused on from the first day of sprints.

“This was a goal of ours. This is what we were shooting for,” Beery said. “It hasn’t happened for the Monticello girls for a while, but we didn’t want that to stand in our way.

“They had to kind of re-learn everything: what it took to be successful, what kind of effort it was going to take to get where we are. We’re not a great team, but we’re trying to be a great team. We’re working hard, and we have great kids. They’ve bought in to what it takes.”

And Hislope won’t hold those long days of conditioning against her coach with a regional trophy in her hands.

“It was definitely worth it,” she said.