The road to Redbird Arena and the state tournament begins Monday all across the state in high school girls basketball. A total of six JG-TC area teams are to play Monday at six of the seven regionals in which there is at least one area team.
"It is a single-elimination season from here on out," said Okaw Valley coach Brad Ackers. "If you don't bring it one day, you are liable to get beat by anybody."
Okaw Valley has won six straight and enters regional play with a 24-5 record, while the Lady Titans have won 10 straight and are 24-4.
Tri-County is coming off a Sweet Sixteen season, while the Lady Timberwolves are looking for their first regional title since Bethany won a Class A (under the two-class system) in 1979-80. Bethany and Findlay consolidated to form Okaw Valley. Its inaugural was 2001-2002.
All regional championship games are set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
WSS, 13-12, is to play at 7:30 p.m. Monday against fellow National Trial Conference foe, South Central, a team that is 2-20 and one that the Hatchets beat 52-11 on Jan. 11. The winner is to play another NTC team in North Clay/Clay City. WSS played North Clay last Thursday and lost 67-39. North Clay also beat them Jan. 18 in the conference tournament semifinals 62-50.
The Hatchets are led by Megan Schlechte, who averages 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
On Monday Martinsville, a team that is having its best season since going 25-3 in 2007-08, is to play Chrisman, a team that is 4-21. The Lady Bluestreaks are led by Audria Truelove at 10 points per game. Martinsville opened its season with a 30-13 win over Chrisman.
The winner is to play Okaw Valley.
"Our girls have played well all year," said Ackers. "It is evident in our scores as we have been in every single game in the last two minutes. With that being said, our regional is tough, and we will need to continue to play well."
Paige Robinson, who is to play at Drury University next school year, leads the Lady Timberwolves in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots with averages of 24.1, 8.2, 2.6, 2.9 and 3.4 per game, respectively. However, four other players have scoring in double digits, including Bella Benning (averages 8.6) and Natalie Jeffers (averages 9.2).
"We have three three-year starters, and they have set the tone," said Ackers. "We have a group of girls that don't like to lose a lot, and that makes my job easier."
Okaw Valley averages 53.1 points per game an allows 35.6.
"We try and be multiple on defense," said Ackers of a zone or man-to-man defense. "Our keys are going to be to keep calm in the big environment, and we have played in many big games. Offensively, it is about finding our rhythm and sharing the basketball. Defense and rebounding win championships. We need to win the battle of rebounds and hold opponents to one shot. That is something we have focused on all year."
The other semifinal pits Central A&M, 19-8, against Arcola, a team that is 7-19. Freshman KayLee Hohlbauch leads the Lady Riders in scoring and rebounding at 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Neoga is the only JG-TC area team in the five-team regional and is to play fellow National Trail Conference foe Brownstown/St. Elmo at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals. The Lady Indians lost to Brownstown/St. Elmo 61-49 Dec. 14 and 63-62 in the third-place game of the conference tournament Jan. 20.
Neoga is 12-15 and is led by Blair Banning with an average of 14.6 points per game.
Tri-County awaits the winner of the South Fork/Edinburg (11-12) vs. Cerro Gordo/Bement (7-17) game for a 6 p.m. semifinal contest Wednesday.
"I believe that we are where we need to be at this time of the year," said Tri-County coach Joe Morrisey. "We are fine-tuning our offense and defense and making adjustments when necessary."
The Lady Titans average 57.8 points per game and allow just 31.4.
"We want to push the pace, which makes our defense our calling card," said Morrisey. "We like to force opponents to try and play at our speed. The Lady Titans are a defensive-minded group, and being able to play eight or nine girls allows us to apply pressure at all times."
Harley Barry and Kiersten Price-Wilson lead Tri-County in scoring at 12.1 points per game, while Grace Burnside is tops in rebounds at 3.6. Barry leads in assists and steals at 5.7 and 4.2, respectively.
"We are a team that is able to count on a variety of different girls to contribute on any given night, which allows us not to have all our eggs in one basket," said Morrisey. "Losing last season in the sectional championship has been a driving force to get back there and continue on to the next level. Only losing Shayne Smith (who averaged 17.8 points per game) from last year's team gives our girls a lot of experience and drive to play late in the postseason."
The team is to leave for the trip of one hour and 45 minutes (from Kansas) at 3:15 Wednesday, then have snacks and talk about the opponent.
"We will prepare to be able to be at our best no matter who the opponent is," said Morrisey. "I believe that we must be prepared ourselves and make our opponents adjust to what we do instead of us changing what they want us to do."
Hannah Wallen has returned for A-L-A-H, who is to play host to Villa Grove/Heritage at 6 p.m. Monday with the winner advancing to the semifinals against Tuscola, the second-seeded team. Tuscola is 21-4 and won the Central Illinois Conference title, going 7-0.
The Knights have played Villa Grove twice and they split their games, winning 54-51 on Dec. 7, but losing 57-46 in the third-place game of the Little Okaw Valley Conference Tournament Jan. 20.
A-L-A-H is 12-12 and is led by Marissa Herschberger and Hannah Wallen, with averages of 14.2 and 13.8 points per game.
The other quarterfinal game Monday is a game between two Central Illinois Conference teams as Sullivan is to play Meridian. The Lady Redskins are 12-12 and beat Meridian 49-20 Dec. 11. Meridian is 4-18. The winner is to play Greenville, a team that is 20-7, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals.
Sullivan is led in scoring by Esther Miller and Lizzie Green at 11.8 and 10.4 points per game, respectively.
Cumberland hopes to snap a seven-game losing streak as they play Robinson, a team that is 4-22, at 7 p.m. Monday. Robinson beat the Lady Pirates 46-32 Jan. 4. The winner is to play top-seeded Marshall, a team that is 19-6.
The other semifinal has two Little Illini Conference teams playing as Newton, 18-11, is to play the host school, C-W, a team that is 14-10. The two teams played just last Thursday with the Lady Warriors coming away with a 54-49 double overtime victory. Casey also beat Newton 51-37 in the Dieterich Holiday Tournament Dec. 27.
Shelbyville, 6-20, is the only JG-TC area team in this five-team regional and is to play 12-16 Effingham St. Anthony at 7 p.m. Monday with the winner to play top-seeded Teutopolis, a team that is 23-6.
The Lady Rams are led in scoring by Shelby Barnhart at 8.2 points per game and Shelbyville is having its best season since going 9-19 in 2014-15.