Highland Middle School eighth grade first-year girls basketball coach Glen Sharpmack knew immediately upon meeting his team that he had a special group.
“From the very first time I met them, I could tell that they had a lot of dedication,” Sharpmack said. “They wanted to make a trip to state. That was a pretty hefty goal, especially for a new coach, but they were ready to go to work. The girls really bought into what we were selling and they went out and they put the work in. They are a very special group.”
On Saturday, all of the hard work paid off as the Lady Bullpups proved to the best group in school history as they put the finishing touches on a historic season by winning 13 games in a row, punctuated by the Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association (SIJHSAA) Class L State Championship with a 47-38 victory over Collinsville Saturday at Rend Lake College.
It was the third time Highland (22-3) beat Collinsville this season.
Earlier in the state semifinals, the Lady Bullpups nipped Carterville 42-40. Prior to that in the quarterfinals, HMS bounced Centralia 52-35.
Other firsts Highland accomplished this season were winning a share of the Tri-County Conference, along with Collinsville, with both earning matching 11-1 league records; winning the Collinsville Shootout; and the eighth-grade team members never suffered a loss at home in their two years.
“They work hard and they are all friends,” said Sharpmack, who is assisted by coach Donna Bennett. “They didn’t have any real cliques and a lot of them have been playing basketball together since the second grade. It truly was a collective thing where they all wanted it and it was especially important to them.”
After leading the team to the ultimate prize in his first year at the helm, Sharpmack joked that, “Where do you go from here? It is hard to improve from here.”
But on a more serious note, Sharpmack said there is a lot of talent in the current seventh- and sixth-grade classes, who will make up the eighth-grade team next year.
A trio of players paced the Lady Bullpups this season, led by stalwart point guard Ellie Brown, who scored slightly under 19 points per game.
“Ellie is a very special player and everything runs through her,” Sharpmack said.
Post player Taylor Fleming and forward Megan Kronk were also very instrumental to the team’s success as they averaged 10 and 8.2 points, respectively.
The two other starters were Ashlyn Klucker and Kaitlyn Feldmann, who served sound defensive roles for the team.
The rest of the team who also played roles in HMS’ success were Lia Basden, Meridith Kleinmann, Kiersten Taylor, EmmaLee Michaels, Samantha Hengehold, Madison Clarke, Galena Stewart, Delaina Sigman, Madi Fenton.
The HMS Lady Bullpups will be honored for their state championship at halftime of the Highland High School girls basketball team’s home game against Mascoutah on Thursday, Feb. 11.