Notes: 'Our girls took that challenge to heart'

Notes: 'Our girls took that challenge to heart'

NORMAL — There was no rousing speech. No Herb Brooks moment, as with the "Miracle on Ice." You probably couldn't film a feature-length movie around this one scene.

Schlarman girls' basketball coach Keith Peoples had very little to say to his team Saturday as it prepared for a Class 1A state title game against Stockton at Illinois State's Redbird Arena. What more could be told to a group that had already won 32 games and looked overwhelmingly dominant in the majority of them?

So Peoples let the high-schoolers do the talking. Or the writing, in this case.

He had each girl take the team's dry-erase board and come up with one word to describe what she would do on the court against the Blackhawks.

How did that work out? Pretty well, considering Schlarman defeated Stockton 53-31 for its first-ever girls' basketball state championship.

"Each player ... delivered exactly what they said they were going to do," Peoples said. "I think it's real important they live in the moment and not put too much pressure on themselves. By talking, communicating, they are able to express themselves, and when they express themselves verbally, you get the results physically."

In that regard, the Hilltoppers took it to the bigger Blackhawks. Even as Stockton utilized a starting lineup featuring three players who are 5-foot-10 or taller, Schlarman turned to athleticism and speed to break down its foe.

It's exactly what the Hilltoppers had prepared for.

"The whole entire season, the first day of practice, even during preseason conditioning, we wanted to be the best-conditioned team to prepare ourselves for the state championship," Peoples said. "And our girls took that challenge to heart."Anaya Peoples converted just shy of 70 percent of her free throws entering the state semifinals on Friday. A 6-of-10 performance against Lebanon was certainly odd, but ultimately not problematic in a 51-40 victory.

So how did she approach finishing 2 of 7 from the charity stripe Saturday against Stockton, once an even larger success had been secured?

"I already texted my training coach and said, 'So when can we get in (the gym)?'" the junior said with a laugh.

From a point-production perspective, the Notre Dame commit didn't amaze at Redbird Arena. Peoples tallied 14 points against Lebanon and another 11 versus Stockton.

But there was plenty more for the coach's daughter to hang her hat on, stats-wise. She totaled 15 rebounds, the most for the team. Her two blocked shots also paced the squad, and she added four steals, three assists and too many fast-break rushes to count.

"It puts the icing on the cake," Anaya Peoples said. "I'm just so happy. I'm happy the season ended like this."Among the four 1A teams at state this season, Schlarman had something the others did not: cheerleaders.

A small group lined the floor during both of the Hilltoppers' triumphs, adding just a little extra flair to an already raucous cheering section.

"We wanted to bring the cheerleaders with us," junior Sydney Gouard said. "We wanted their support, plus the fan support."

The fun continued later Saturday, as the city of Danville held a small parade to Schlarman Academy for the Hilltoppers before the school hosted a rally around 7 p.m.

All of the athletes expressed excitement about the festivities and gratitude for those who have backed this Vermilion Valley Conference squad on its way to immortality.

"We really appreciate them," Anaya Peoples said. "They travel so far for us, staying up until 11 o'clock at night for some games. But we just can't thank them enough, and all of our success has come from them supporting us."

Colin Likas