By FRED KRONER
The girls’ basketball season began with question marks for the Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School seventh-grade team.
“We were concerned about not even having enough girls to fill out the full roster,” third-year head coach Jimmy Lanphear said. “Luckily, we had several extra girls show up to tryouts and were able to fill the roster.”
As preparation began for the games, the coaching staff wasn’t predicting this year’s team would be the best in school history at the seventh-grade level.
“Since about half the team was composed of girls who were experiencing competitive basketball for the first time, my expectations were mainly focused on establishing fundamentals and team-centered basketball as a building block for next year and beyond,” Lanphear said. “I wanted each player to end the season better and more confident than when it began.”
Those players will end the season on Thursday as Mahomet-Seymour’s first seventh-grade girls’ team to earn a state trophy.
M-S (17-8) will play Frankfort Hickory Creek (22-5) in the Class 4A state third-place game at Bolingbrook Brooks Middle School.
“It’s surreal,” Lanphear said. “I’m not even sure that I’m fully grasping the immensity of it yet.
“Everything has happened so quickly and the range of emotions about what we’ve accomplished in the past week has been vast. It’s both very humbling and rewarding. I am so proud of these girls and am so excited for this moment in their lives that they will never forget.”
According to the Illinois Elementary School Association, this is the fourth time that M-S has qualified a seventh-grade girls’ basketball team for the state tournament.
They join other advancing teams from 2011, 2000 and 1989.
“The main gym at the MSJH is severely lacking in banners representing girls sports,” Lanphear said. “Coach Kusnerick and I have had a dream to change that.
“We set that as a challenge to last year’s teams and have been fully committed to building a tradition of excellence. There is no way that we would be where we are today without the dedication of our amazing parents, all the support we receive from the high school program and the all the work that is put in by parents and coaches in our youth programs. The future is bright for Mahomet-Seymour girls basketball.”
Last Saturday, the young Bulldogs made history, rallying to defeat Chatham Glenwood 27-24 in the 4A state quarterfinals.
M-S trailed at halftime, 12-11, and after three quarters, 19-16, before staging a successful comeback.
Claire Seal scored a game-high 13 points for the Bulldogs.
Sidney Young nailed two three-point shots and added seven points.
Also contributing to the scoring totals were Sydney McKinney (three points), Nadia Biegler (two points) and Lauren Burr (two points).
Chatham Glenwood ended the year with a 21-3 record.
“This past week has been so much fun for our program,” Lanphear said.
As the season has progressed, Lanphear has seen improvement in several areas, including “growing confidence from game to game.”
That includes perimeter shooting.
“Claire Seal and Sidney Young have developed confidence in their three-point shot,” Lanphear said. “Those two have made seven total in the sectional and two state games.”
That total is significant for a squad which did not make any three-point baskets throughout the regular season.
Though the players are young, they maintain their composure when faced with adversity.
In addition to the late-game comeback against Chatham, M-S overcame a 15-point second-half deficit against Effingham in the sectionals.
One key, according to Lanphear, is “discipline to not let the big moments overwhelm them. Not that they haven’t played without nerves, but they have not let those nerves have a drastic effect on their performance.”
In the state semifinals on Saturday, M-S fell to Shorewood Troy 37-24. M-S led 8-6 after the first quarter.
“Running on fumes playing a powerhouse school like Shorewood Troy, we kept it close for a half (trailing 17-15 in their third game since Wednesday) all within a span of four days was both exhausting and exhilarating,” Lanphear said. “After securing the regional championship, we’ve had the mindset of ‘let’s just go for it’ and that’s how we’ve played.
“Even though we lost the semifinal game, our girls are still excited to be the first MSJH team to place as high as third and to be one of only two teams in the state that are able to end their season with a victory.”
Only one other M-S junior high girls’ team has captured a state trophy in basketball. In 2001, the eighth-grade team placed fourth in Class 2A.
Against Shorewood, Burr scored a team-high 10 points. Seal scored eight points, Young and McKinney each totaled three points.
Seal and Young both made three-point shots.
Thursday’s third-place game will start at 6 p.m.
Starters Biegler, Burr, McKinney, Seal and Young have had ample assistance from the Bulldogs’ bench, notably Ava Henderson and Marin Minick.
Others on the state roster are Jama Craig, Taylor Fulk, Teri Hall, Ellie Henrichs, Ashlyn Labbe, Izzy Leyhe and Sadie Wilcoxon.
The strength of the team, Lanphear said, is a “never-quit attitude, toughness, tenacity. We understand that we’re not always the most talented team on the court but you don’t always need to be to win.”