March Madness is underway despite the calendar still reading “February”, as the IHSA Class 1A & 2A Girls Basketball State Finals will unfold at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal on Friday and Saturday, February 22-23. The 2013 tournament is the 37th annual edition, the 22nd consecutive year that Redbird has served as the host and the sixth year of the four-class system.
The games will air live on the IHSA TV Network (click for local listings) and will also be carried live on the internet at www.IHSA.tv. Lee Hall and Kelly Burke will bring viewers the 1A action and Dave Bernhard and Patricia Babcock McGraw step in to call the 2A games. Matt Rodewald will handle the hosting and sideline duties, along with the Class 1A and 2A finals of the Country Financial Three-Point Showdown.
The Class 1A field pits the two teams who were in the title game a year ago against a pair of first-time state final qualifiers. Defending champ Aquin will meet Annawan in the first semifinal at noon, while 2012 runner-up Cowden-Herrick Beecher City Coop faces off against the Mt. Pulaski Hartsburg-Emden Coop in the second semi at 2:00 p.m.
The 2A field features no returning teams from a year ago, but still has some familiar faces and some new blood. The 6:30 p.m. semifinal is a matchup between two schools who have combined for 14 state final appearances in Nashville (10) and Walthern Lutheran (4). El Paso-Gridley and St. Thomas More meet in the 8:15 semifinal in a game pitting a pair of first-time state final qualifiers against one another.
AQUIN LADY BULLDOGS (29-3) vs. ANNAWAN BRAVETTES (29-2)
Jeff Curry’s Aquin squad returns three starters from last year's state championship team, none more important than Arizona State commit Sophie Brunner. Brunner is averaging 20.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game during her senior season and continues to be the Bulldogs spark. A year ago in the semifinals, she scored 10 first quarter points to help Aquin jump out to a 23-4 lead over LeRoy and then scored seven straight first half points to help the Lady Bulldogs rally from a nine-point deficit in the championship. Annawan has been on the doorstep of a state berth the past few seasons and finally breaks through in head coach Jason Burkiewicz’s third season. The Bravettes go as Celina VanHyfte (22.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg ) goes, as the All-State junior center has led the team in scoring in all but two games this season. However, with Celina hampered with an injury in Monday’s Super-Sectional, Annawan showed its depth, as Celina’s sister, freshman Morgan, stepped in to lead the team with 18 points. The Bravettes have not dropped a game to a 1A opponent this season.
COWDEN-HERRICK BEECHER CITY HORNETS (26-5) vs. MT. PULASKI LADY TOPPERS (28-4)
Cowden-Herrick reaches the state finals for the third time in four years after placing fourth in 2010 and second a year ago. Most of the faces have changed for Carolyn Wendte’s Hornets, with the exception of Micah Jones. The 6-1 All-State senior enters averaging a double-double (24.2 ppg, 16.4 rpg) and is the program's career leader in scoring and rebounding. In four career state final games at Redbird, the dynamic Jones has averaged 11.5 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, along with nearly five assists and five blocks per contest. Mt. Pulaski (a coop that includes Hartsburg-Emden) is very familiar with IHSA State Finals at Redbird Arena, just not in basketball. The school has played in the Girls Volleyball state tournament seven times since 2002, including finishing as the Class 1A runner-up in 2011 and 2012. Eric Leever’s squad hopes to hoist the championship trophy behind a balanced attack with three double-digit scorers, including senior Jessica Awe (17.9 ppg) and Andrea Dickinson (14.1 ppg). The Lady Toppers are hot at the right time, highlighted by a 72-60 win over 2012 state finalist Illinis Bluffs in the Sectional finals, the same team that beat Mt. Pulaski by 26 points in January.
WALTHER LUTHERAN LADY BRONCOS (26-6) vs. NASHVILLE HORNETTES (31-2)
In a game of conflicting styles, Walther Lutheran head coach Todd Fisher will push the tempo behind a roster chalked full of athleticism. All five Lady Bronco starters are member of the school’s track team that has finished second in Class 2A the past two seasons. Senior forward Isimeme Edeko (14.7 ppg, 11.6 rpg) teams with twin sisters Anna (8.5 ppg) and Arra Strong (62 assists) to form one of the state’s fastest relay teams on the track and fastbreak threats on the court. A tough schedule, including playing defending 3A champ Montini to a pair of games under 10 points, will have the team battle-tested.
Redbird Arena has become Nashville’s home away from home, as Wayne Harre brings the team to state for the eighth time in his 13 seasons at the helm. The Hornettes are still looking to reach their first championship game and hope to do so in 2013 behind their trademark suffocating defense. In 12 state final games under Harre, the school has never allowed more than 47 points in a regulation game. On the offensive end, the Hornettes employ a balanced attack led by Shaye Harre (12.9 ppg) and Erica Brown (9.2 ppg).
ST. THOMAS MORE SABERS (31-2) vs. EL PASO-GRIDLEY TITANS (29-1)
St. Thomas More has steadily been growing into a perennial power program, and ironically, Chris Mennig’s team may have reached that level with a loss this season. The Sabers led defending Class 4A champ and top ranked Whitney Young in the fourth quarter of their game in January that opened many eyes. All-State junior guard Randa Harshbarger (12.4 ppg, 141 assists) is the engine for the team, while the addition of 6-4 freshman forward Tori McCoy (15 ppg, 10.5 rpg) has helped raise the team to the next level. El Paso-Gridley has been a program on the brink as well, having compiled a record of 83-4 over the past three seasons under head coach Kyle Bobbitt. The Titans are led by the one-two punch of All-State junior Rebekah Ehresman (16.5 ppg, 133 assists) and junior forward Codee Schlipf (11.5 ppg). The team enters the semifinals on a 17-game winning streak and its lone setback of the year came against 3A Rochester. The Titans could enjoy a homecourt advantage of sorts in the stands, as the towns of El Paso and Gridley sit less than 30 miles to the north of Normal.
Redbird Arena (Normal)
Friday, February 22
Class 1A Semifinals
Noon - Annawan vs. Aquin
2:00 p.m. - Mt. Pulaski vs. Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City
Class 2A Semifinals
6:30 p.m. - Nashville vs. Walther Lutheran
8:15 p.m. - El Paso-Gridley vs. St. Thomas More
Saturday, February 23
Class 1A Finals
Noon - Third-Place
2:00 p.m. - Championship
Class 2A Finals
6:30 p.m. - Third-Place
8:15 p.m. - Championship
Follow @IHSAState on Twitter (tag your tweets with #IHSA)
Games available on IHSA TV Network. Click here for carriers and channels or check local listings.
WFPS 92.1 FM (Freeport)
WKEI 1450 AM & 104.3 FM (Kewanee)
WXEF 97.9 FM (Effingham)
WNSV 104.7 FM (Nashville)
WDWS 1400 AM (Champaign)
St. Thomas More
RESULTS & LIVE STATS
IHSA Girls Basketball Page
COUNTRY THREE POINT SHOWDOWN
Thursday, February 21
5:00 p.m. - 1A/2A Prelims
Friday, February 22
1:45 p.m. - 1A Finals
8:00 p.m. - 2A Finals
$10 per session (general admission)
HISTORY & RECORDS
2013 Road To Redbird
Record Book & Past Champions