The Edwardsville High School Tigers girls basketball program’s talent pool has been deeper than ever during the 2016-17 season.
With two players — Makenzie Silvey and Criste’on Waters — already committed to playing NCAA Division I basketball at Southern Illinois University Carbondale next year and juniors Kate Martin and Rachel Pranger getting plenty of looks from NCAA Division I schools, the latest Tigers edition may be one of coach Lori Blade’s best as their 26-0 record and No.3 ranking in the latest Class 4A state poll indicates.
Blade has also made sure the 2016-17 team is one of the best prepared as it seeks its 14th-straight regional title in the Class 4A Collinsville Regional this week.
The Tigers have not only gone through a 14-0 season in the Southwestern Conference, but have won tournaments at Springfield Southeast and Oswego East and added non-conference wins against (St. Louis) St. Joseph’s Academy and Chicago Whitney Young.
“We did make our non-conference schedule more challenging this season,” Blade said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think we’ll see any situation in the postseason that we haven’t seen this year.”
Edwardsville begins its 2017 postseason journey this week at the Class 4A Collinsvillle Sectional. Edwardsville will play either seventh-seeded Collinsville or eighth-seeded East St. Louis at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The Tigers feature a team of five potential NCAA Division I players. Silvey (16.1) leads the Tigers’ offense, while Waters (7.8) is a force in the post area and defense and hauls down five rebounds. Pranger, a physical guard and forward (14.1 ppg, 8.3 rebounds), and Martin (14 points, 5 rebounds) are also forces to be reckoned with. Add junior Myriah Noodel-Haywood to the attack, and Edwardsville is loaded at every position on the court.
But their basketball talent isn’t makes this group special according to Blade
“This is a great group of girls who get along well and are very enjoyable to be around. It’s fun to coach this team. These kids are a team in the truest sense,” Blade said. “They are extremely coachable. They listen well and they give everything they have on both ends of the court. Most of all they have each other’s backs. All of the girls on this team are supportive of each other.
“Have we peaked yet. I honestly don’t think so. I think this team can still play better. We’ve been close, but I don’t think we’ve put a complete 32 minutes together ... yet.”
Highland, Civic Memorial on collision course
The Highland Bulldogs begin their quest for a return trip to the Class 3A State Tournament at the Central Class 3A Regional when they take on either Freeburg or Mascoutah at 6 p.m Tuesday. The Bulldogs (26-3) enter the post-season with a record of 26-3 and are currently riding an 18-game winning streak.
Co-Champions of the Mississippi Valley Conference along with Civic Memorial (27-2), Highland is led by seniors Alex LaPorta (13.9 ppg, 14 rebounds) and Madison Wellen (18.4). Two players who played on the Bulldogs team that placed third in the Class 3A State Tournament a year ago, Wellen and LaPoarta are two of the keys on a deep Highland team ranked third in the Class 3A state poll.
“As far as depth, this team is probably deeper than the one which placed third in the state tournament a year ago,” Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “But last year we had (all-stater) Amanda Ponce who I could use to either post up or bring the ball up the court.
“We’re not looking ahead towards Civic Memorial or anybody else. Right now, we’re looking at either Freeburg or Mascoutah. We’re taking it one quarter and one game at a time.”
Central is the third seed in the Class 3A Regional-Sectional Complex and will take on Waterloo in the second regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Civic Memorial, which defeated Highland twice in three games this season and is ranked fourth in the Class 3A state poll, is the top seed at the Roxana Regional this week. The Eagles are coached by Jonathan Denny and are led by two-time first team all-state selection Allie Troeckler (23.4 ppg).
The winner the Roxana and Central Regionals advance to the Waterloo Sectional. In opposite brackets, Civic Memorial and Highland would meet in the sectional title game Thursday, March 23 if form holds true.
Class 4A Regional-Sectional Complex
Seeds: 1. Edwardsville, 4. Belleville East, 6. Belleville West, 7. Collinsville, 8. East St. Louis, 10. Granite City
Could Surprise: Belleville East, Collinsville
Synopsis: Ranked third in the Class 4A state poll, Edwardsville is clearly the team to beat at Collinsville this week. In 14 Southwestern Conference games, the Tigers outscored their opponents 977-476 and could face three leagues foes to open their 2017 post-season run. Belleville East (19-9) enters regional play on a four game winning streak and has one of the St. Louis area’s top back courts in sophomore Kaylah Rainey (15.5 ppg) and Brittney Nitz (12.4). But in two meetings this season with Edwardsville, the Lancers have been outscored by a combined 65 points. Belleville West (18-9) has a top forward in junior Sydney Thurwalker (13.1 ppg, 9.9 rebounds). Collinsville (13-11) is dangerous because of its 3-point shooters, but the Kahoks don’t have the inside game to compete with Edwardsville.
Seeds: 2. Springfield, 3. O’Fallon, 5. Chatham-Glenwood, 9. Quincy, 11. Alton
Could Surprise: O’Fallon
Synopsis: Springfield (24-4) is the top seed and while the Senators are in the midst of one of their finest seasons in recent history, they need to be concerned about an O’Fallon team (19-9) which has played well during the second half of the season. Coach Ryan Massey’s team has one of the top players in the Southwestern Conference in senior Marta Durk (18.1 ppg) while senior Jayla Stubblefield (8.7) and Divine Lane (8.1) also have the offensive ability to take over a game.
Class 3A Regional-Sectional Complex
Seeds: 2. Highland, 3. Central, 7. Waterloo, 9. Freeburg, 10. Mascoutah
Could Surprise: Central
Synopsis: Like they did a year ago, Highland (26-3) closed its season with a rush. Led by seniors Madison Wellen and Alex LaPorta, the Bulldogs haven’t lost a game since Dec. 20. They’ve won two tournaments and tied for the Mississippi Valley Conference championship. But on an 18-game winning streak, Highland will be challenged by host Central at the Central Regional. Led by coach Nathan Rueter — who picked up his 300th career win this week — the Cougars are well coached, have a dominant player in junior Faye Meissner (13.3) and are playing at home in Clinton County.
Seeds: 1. Civic Memorial, 4. Triad, 5. Jerseyville, 6. Columbia, 8. Cahokia, 11. Roxana
Favorite: Civic Memorial
Could Surprise: Triad, Columbia
Synopsis: With four combined wins over conference foes Jerseyville and Triad by a combined 122 points, the top-seeded Eagles should not be pushed in this regional. Civic Memorial (27-2) also has a 34-point win over Columbia to its credit. Triad (12-12) is led by Hannah Johnson (12.5),. while Columbia is led by Madelyn Juenger (12.6 ppg.)