Saint Thomas More girls win state basketball championship
By: By Tom Dermody
PHOTO: The Sabers and coaching staff pose with their Class 2A state championship trophy after their win over Peterstown in the title game at Redbird Arena in Normal. — Photo by Daryl Wilson for The Catholic Post (More photos from the title game may be viewed and purchased by clicking on the camera icon at the left of this page.)
CHAMPAIGN — Selfless. Willing to push beyond limits to be their best. Great representatives of their school. Fantastic young women in every facet of life.
Those are just some ways members of the girls basketball team at The High School of Saint Thomas More were described at a school assembly here on March 4 celebrating that these Sabers can forever claim another title:
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said senior point guard Randa Harshbarger, moments after hoisting the net-draped, Illinois High School Association Class 2A championship trophy with her teammates as the entire student body applauded.
The accomplishments of this talented group of Sabers have already sunk into the local and state record books for all to appreciate for years to come.
The team’s 33 wins are the most in the school’s 13-year history. The championship game at Redbird Arena on March 1 against Prophetstown put an exclamation point on a season that ended with a 23-game winning streak. The Sabers’ convincing 70-34 win tied for the second greatest margin of victory in the 38 years of IHSA state finals.
The High School of Saint Thomas More, which reached the championship game last year before falling to Nashville, was top-ranked in state basketball polls all year. At season’s end, three Sabers — Harshbarger, junior Lexi Wallen, and sophomore Tori McCoy — received first-team, all-state recognition by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. Among those joining them on the first team was Molly McGraw of Bloomington Central Catholic.
Meanwhile, McCoy made the Associated Press all-state first team, with Wallen on second team and Harshbarger receiving honorable mention.
Having such recognized talent and last year’s success led to high expectations this year. But at last Tuesday’s rally, head coach Chris Mennig said his team was up to that challenge.
“This is what we were supposed to do,” he said of the state championship. “That’s hard, and it was no easy journey.”
Mennig described the year as a “rollercoaster” that ended with the Sabers playing “at the highest level on the highest stage” and doing so with “fun, love, and pure joy.”
He expressed gratitude to all who journeyed with and supported them, including parents, assistant coaches, administration, the Saber Pack student cheering section, alumni, and the bus drivers.
After introducing and thanking each player, Mennig then had advice for all the students assembled for the rally.
“Are the habits that you have today on par with the dreams that you have for tomorrow?” he asked. “If not, you will have to change if you want to become great.”
“Push yourself to greatness,” Mennig continued. “Push yourself to become excellent. Be more. Become more.
“These women sitting here in front of you did just that,” he said. “There is no doubt that they’re going to go on to great things in life because they dared to push themselves beyond their limits.”
STRIVING FOR EXCELLENCE
Father Robert Lampitt, school chaplain, echoed the challenge.
“That’s one of the things I preach about all the time, striving for excellence, which is a euphemism for holiness,” he told The Catholic Post.
“If we can teach our students that, they’re going to be successful in life in every way — spiritually, intellectually, morally, socially,” said Father Lampitt.
The accomplishments of the girls basketball team “is just the latest example of our young people striving to be the best they can be.” While not “saints” or “perfect,” they are “fantastic young ladies in every facet,” said Father Lampitt.
In a prayer opening the rally, Father Lampitt thanked God for the team’s successes and inspiration, asking that “we continue to put all of our talents and our gifts at your service and at the service of our brothers and sisters.”
Ryan Bustle, principal, said his happiness extends beyond the giant trophy the team brought back to the school.
“These kids put in a lot of hard work,” he told The Catholic Post. “They represented the school, our teachers, and our administration in exactly the way we wanted them to, and that’s really what we’re happiest about. The wins are great, yes, but the way they represented us and everyone involved with the Saint Thomas More community was outstanding.”
Before introducing the girls basketball team, Bustle acknowledged the successes of the high school’s other winter teams and clubs, including the math team, which won its regional competition, and the boys basketball team that is also advancing through the state tournament. The boys (22-7) were to play in the supersectional on Tuesday night at Illinois State after defeating St. Anne in double overtime last Friday.
Meanwhile, Bloomington Central Catholic has also reached the supersectional in Class 2A after edging Taylor Ridge. The Saints were to play Sterling Newman at Northern Illinois University, also on Tuesday.