Class 2A girls' hoops notebook: Grentz fires up Sabers
NORMAL — Chris Mennig’s Friday night wardrobe didn’t include St. Thomas More’s school colors.
It was orange and blue for the Sabers’ girls’ basketball head coach.
It was a tribute to his former boss, ex-Illini coach Theresa Grentz, who was invited to speak to his team moments before they took the floor at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena for a state semifinal game against Teutopolis.
“She is the reason I am at St. Thomas More,” Mennig said. “I’m wearing orange and blue because of her.”
Mennig entered the locker room a few steps ahead of Grentz and was greeted by a smiling, singing group of athletes.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said.
“Cookies?” one player responded.
“Way better than cookies,” Mennig responded.
Grentz stepped forward and received a thunderous ovation.
In introducing the coach who needed no introduction to this group, Mennig said, “I know my limitations, so I brought in an Olympic Hall of Famer to motivate you guys.”
Grentz was direct with her message.
“I want to see you play with fire, play with enthusiasm, play with passion,” Grentz said. “Play like a team. You have your moment. Do not screw it up.”
As Mennig concluded his pregame talk, which focused on the keys to the game, he questioned his players.
“So here we are,” he said. “Was there any doubt in your mind that we’d be back? Was there ever a doubt?
“Of course not. You’ve done everything I’ve asked of you. Actually, you’re above and beyond prepared. I couldn’t ask for a better team to take to the floor tonight.”
STM won 63-43 and for the second year in a row will play for a state championship.
For Mennig, his anxiety is over shortly after the game starts.
“The first three minutes,” he said. “I’ll be OK after that because I’ll know which direction we’re going. We’ll find out early if they want to play with us or play keepaway.”
No game-day test
Assistant coach Scott DeWitt has three varsity players — Lauren Croft, Allie Kreie and Tori McCoy — in a geometry class. Friday was test day.
The players got a reprieve until Monday.
“I’d do that for anybody in any sport if they were in this situation,” DeWitt said. “They didn’t need undue stress.”
Not all of their teammates were so fortunate. Sophomore Leah Allison had a Friday test and said, “It might not have gone too well.”
State champion shooter
Senior Devin Curry from Watseka nailed 11 of 15 three-point shots and won the Class 2A three-point shooting contest. The runner-up was Mount Carmel’s Tyra Buss, the all-time state scoring leader.
“I was more nervous today,” Curry said. “There were more people here (watching).”
She also qualified for state as a sophomore but did not reach the final four. She wanted to make sure she gave everything she had for her final shot.
“I’ve been staying after school every day and shooting,” Curry said.
Curry was the second shooter in the finals. She was fine with that placement.
“I prefer not to be last,” she said. “This definitely feels good. I was honored to be here.”
Earlier in the day Friday, Curry was chosen for the IBCA all-state second team. The team is a combined 1A/2A unit.
Varner state runner-up
There was probably not a more unlikely player to advance to state in the IHSA three-point shooting contest than Fisher’s Hannah Varner.
During the regular season, she attempted one three-point shot.
“When we played Shiloh, with about five seconds left, I tried one,” Varner said. “I missed it.”
She did much better on her subsequent attempts.
Varner advanced through the regional and sectional rounds to qualify for state. On Thursday, she hit eight shots to reach the four-person finals. She returned Friday and nailed six shots to finish as the Class 1A state runner-up. Winner Amanda Cheek, from Ullin, made eight three-pointers.
“I was more nervous today (than Thursday),” Varner said. “I don’t think anyone expected anything yesterday, but today I felt more pressure.”
Varner not only didn’t shoot three-pointers in the regular season, but said, “I practiced about five minutes before regionals and not at all before sectionals.”
Varner hit five of her final eight shots in the finals.
The future University of Illinois student, and biology major, isn’t quite ready to turn in her uniform. She was selected for an all-star game later this month in Gibson City.
She has an idea what to expect.
“They’ll probably make me shoot three-pointers,” Varner said.
Area flavor at state
Twelve state officials were chosen to referee games at Redbird Arena, including Rantoul’s Mark Brooks, a third-time selection for the finals.
Brooks had the opening Class 1A semifinal game. He is the lone area official working this weekend’s tournament.
Tuscola’s 53-member band, under the direction of Alison Bowen, played throughout the day Friday. The group includes some eighth-graders.
The individual chosen to sing the national anthem today is Judah Christian’s Cameron Cornell.
Quote of the day
Central A&M’s Taylor Jordan had a game-high 20 points in her team’s 40-38 loss to Carrollton in Class 1A. Afterward, the junior had a classy response when discussing the officials.
“It was physical, but it’s not their fault,” Jordan said. “They’re there to help.”
Stat of the day
Top-ranked Annawan forced Eastland into 31 turnovers — in the first half alone — of the second Class 1A semifinal game. Eastland attempted 13 first-half shots in a game it trailed by 26 points at intermission. Eastland finished with 47 turnovers in a game Annawan won 71-45. In six postseason games for Annawan, its closest competitor was Cissna Park in Monday’s super-sectional. That final margin was 19 points.