State Tournament -- CHBC Girls Finish Second At State


Published on January 4 2021 2:33 pm
Last Updated on January 6 2021 6:01 am
Written by Millie Lange

The Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City High School girls basketball team was on a mission. In 2009-10, the squad made its first Class 1A State Tournament appearance in school history and ended up with a fourth place finish. But, that wasn’t enough for the Hornets.

The following year, Coach Carolyn Wendte’s squad was determined to do better.

“They had been to State and tasted what they could do,” said Wendte. “So, the next season, they put a motto on their shirts . . . now or never. Their work ethic was unbelievable and they just jelled so well together.”

Members of the team included Ava Paruleski, Faith Wendte, Micah Jones, Marissa Klee, Autumn Riley, Kirby Herrmann, Ashley Miller, Taylor Edwards, Bailey Doty, Courtney Myers, Emily Wheeler, Chandler Ward and Kacie Hilt.

Assistant coach for Wendte was Larry Young.

" Larry has been my sidekick for many years both at the junior high and high school level," said Coach Wendte, talking about her assistant coach. " When we have overlapping practices/games he does what I don't do. However, what has really worked is the fact that we have three main philosophies that we both agree on:

"Fundamentals need to be worked on daily.

"The entire team needs developed -- the deeper the bench the better you are.  So as a player when you are on the floor you must give 100% all of the time. No pacing to play the majority of the game, earn it and -- work hard -- get tired.

"Everyone must get along with one another.

"When you have these philosophies instilled in you throughout junior high and high school level -- good things have happened.

"Players buy into the system and this has been a big part of our success. It has always been a team effort with differentplayers stepping up at different times and in different situations.

"And during the State play -- Larry was right there and living the dream through the players."

Coach Wendte talked about her 2011-12 team.

“We had a good group of seniors,” said Wendte. “I was always lacking a big girl and we couldn’t shut down the inside. We’ve always been quick, and had one or two good shooters. This year I was blessed with a big girl inside, good shooters and ballhanders. I knew they were going to be special.

“When we played summer ball, I took two teams because I had so many girls. They were close knit. But some decided to go with other sports and made other choices. There was so much competition at this level for many, many years and it made them good among themselves, pushing each other to their limits.

“The seniors in this group went to state as sophomores. We got beat when they were juniors in the championship game of the sectional. I didn’t think they had practiced that summer like I thought they should have. That night in the locker room after we got beat, it was almost worse than going to a funeral. I told them, ‘you’re all coming back, make something of it and work harder. Or, we can say we were satisfied going to State one year. It’s up to you.’

“They stayed in the locker room another 32 minutes without me. They walked out and said, ‘we have our goals set for next year.’ They were bound and determined they were going to get back.”

And, they did return. The Hornets defeated Tuscola, 65-36 and Decatur LSA, 70-63 to win the sectional. In the super-sectional, CHBC was a 57-46 winner over Goreville. Then it was State where they defeated Illini Bluff, 63-54 to move into the championship game. In the title contest, the squad fell to Freeport Aquin, 61-51 to finish second.

“My point guard was Emily Wheeler,” said Wendte. “She handled the ball and played good defense. Bailey Doty was my other guard. My small forward was Courtney Myers and she was the go-getter. She was small but mighty and could drill a three-pointer or work inside.

“My strong forward was Faith Wendte. She and I always butted heads because we are related. I don’t know what words I have to describe Micah Jones. She was the center but she could handle the ball. She loved to go left. She didn’t know what her left hand was when she started basketball. She would ask me what to focus on, to get that one particular thing down, to be successful.

“Marissa Klee was the first one off the bench when I needed her to step in for Micah or Courtney if I wanted to go bigger. I could go pretty big on the inside. She was a post and could hold her own on the inside.

“Another key player off the bench was Ava Paruleski. She was a guard and she would take some time in and play point, outside shooter and had a great leaping ability to pull down the boards.

“Another one that gave us sound playing time was Autumn Riley. She helped out on the inside. She wasn’t afraid to get in there and tangle with the big players. A spunky one was Micah’s cousin, Chandler Ward. She was a guard and wasn’t afraid to take it to them.

“Kirby Herrmann was a post. She would help out on the inside if people got in foul trouble. Ashley Miller was a guard and Taylor Edwards a small forward. Taylor always gave advice because she could see things happening on and off the floor. Kacie Hilt was a forward that came in and would help a lot on defense.”

One of the highlights during the season was November 26 when the Bobcats took on Teutopolis.

“We took them, 60-42,” said Wendte. “Our gym was absolutely packed. That was one of the biggest celebrations we had. My kids said that was one goal but not the main goal.

“Central A&M was another big opponent and we were always big rivals. We always played them at the end of the season and that let us know where we were.

“The conference was pretty early in the season. The Highland Tournament was our eye-opener. We were at a standpoint where we had only lost to a couple of big schools. T-town turned around and beat us and got us back to Earth, 59-54. That was a big upset. They didn’t have losing in their repertoire.

“I didn’t have to get on them as a coach, they got on themselves. I had to talk them up after games like that.

“We played Edwardsville for the first time ever. We gained a lot of recognition. We lost 59-41 but we could compete with them. The size of their school and our school, what a difference. We were winning until we got in the fourth quarter. One thing we learned, it was spoken by the seniors, we let a girl score 31 points on us and that was the talk in the locker room. We couldn’t let anyone score that many and win the game. We couldn’t get them shut down and we had to work on our team defense. We got focused again.

“We made it through the regional then we got to the sectional at St. Anthony. We were pretty jittery that night and I was worried about it. We were the ones that had the experience and we needed to let the game come to us and good things would happen. We got through that then we went on to super-sectional at Salem. I was good friends with Holtz down there and that was almost like a home court advantage.

“We played Hume Shiloh. Greg (Sapp) and Matt (Robinson) had a little box they had to climb up to. Two people was all you could fit in there. We were laughing about that so hard. I had to stay down on the bleachers because I couldn’t get in the box. Matt kept saying he was going to fall through this thing. We were dying laughing.

“We played Goreville and they had an All-Stater. She was a tall kid and about the same as Micah, around 6-1. That was their go-to. We fought back-and-forth with 19 lead changes. We won 57-46 and we hit some clutch free throws in the last minute. We went AWOL at the free throw line and that helped us win.

“The kids celebrated about five minutes in the locker room and then we got focused on State.”

The squad had competed in 2009-10 and finished fourth so this wasn’t their first go-around.

“Since we had been there before, the kids knew the routine,” said Wendte. “We were in the locker room down in the dungeon. I’ll never forget, the folks at State told the girls there were tunnels and they echoed and sounded like a bunch of cows when teams yelled. But the first time we were at State, we were too scared to yell. The second time, the girls went down that tunnel and on the floor, you could have heard them back in Effingham.

“We had superstitions, that’s for sure. We had to eat the same thing and do the same thing. They all had their own little routines then game routines with each other. We had a lot of different things we did together. But, once we were on the floor it was all serious.

“And, boy could these girls eat. You looked at them and thought they didn’t eat anything. Our community just supported us so much. When the girls came out of the locker room and saw the fans and it was amazing. All they were really sorry for was the fans had to sit in the hard seats and the girls had cushioned seats!

“We played Illini Bluffs in the opener and we had played them during the summer. My group started at the end of May playing summer ball and our last game was the last week in July. We did a lot of traveling during the summer.”

The Hornets defeated Glasford Illini Bluffs, 63-54. Then headed to the championship game where they lost 61-51 to Freeport Aquin to finish second.

“After we played them at State, I kind of lost track of them,” said Wendte. “I would call once in a while and get scouting reports. That coach was under so much pressure to always be back at State and I heard he started drinking and killed himself. That was very sad because we used to compete against each other during the summer.”

CHBC competed in the Class 1A State Tournament a total of three times and finished fourth twice along with the second place finish.

“The 2009-10 was the dream team,” said Wendte. “I said I got high hopes for this group but we have to put it all together. Hilary Shelton Kopplin was our ringleader. She was momma and that’s what the kids called her.

“A lot of Hilary’s teammates would move away and then here came other kids. She told me they were going to make something of this team because we had the talent. She was almost like my assistant coach.

“Micah came in as a freshman and we were doing an out-of-bounds play and Hilary was ambidextrous. Micah was wide open and Hilary smacked her in the face with the ball. Micah looked at her and said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t pay attention.’ Hilary told her, ‘I want the assist so pay attention.’

“Hilary knew what she was doing from her step-dad, who got killed in a farming accident. She was a true leader and nurtured these kids and that’s what started the whole thing.

“My go-to guard was Moncia Gardner. She got stretched a lot of  ways by Hilary. Kelsey Barnes blew her knee out at the start of that season. She and Hilary really pulled the team together and stayed on the younger ones to work harder. They wanted to live the dream.

“Hilary Buchanan and the upperclassmen may not have been the leading scorers or rebounders but they were the heart and soul of that team to get them to perform to the best of their abilities.”

Members of that team were Hillary Shelton, Hillary Buchanan, Lena Miller, Faith Wendte, Micah Jones, Marissa Klee, Kelsey Barnes, Katlynn Kersey, Emily Wheeler, Breeanna Strauch, Bailey Doty, Megan Meier, Taylor Hilt, Monica Gardner and Courtney Myers.

“I’ll never forget when we went to State, they grabbed Micah for an interview and without any of us coaches saying anything, one of the questions they asked her was to tell them how she got a triple/double. And she said, ‘the only thing that leads to this is my teammates and without them I can do nothing.’ That was our motto when we went to State. If one kid got down and out, others stepped up. Nobody worried about who scored the most or had the most rebounds, but it was always about her teammates.”

The 2012-13 team also went to State and finished fourth. The team lost to Mount Pulaski, 49-41 and then played in the third place contest where they fell to Annawan, 47-37.

“I call this group my wild group,” said Wendte. “I lost all those seniors and this was my rebuilding group. This group, we were supposed to be pathetic.However, this group’s motto was to have fun and they learned it was fun and wanted to go back to State.”

Members of the team were Kirby Herrmann, Autumn Riley, Micah Jones, Ava Paruleski, Kacie Hilt, Chandler Ward, Ashley Miller, Jensyn Morrison, Taylor Edwards, Alicia Adams and Summer Riley.

“Micah and Ava put the group on their shoulders and said ‘we’re going to get there.’ they made everybody jell together.

“Kirby Herrmann could pull down her load of rebounds. She could help Micah on the inside. Autumn Riley learned she had to step up offensive-wise. Chandler Ward, was one of my main ballhandlers. Ashley Miller was a sidekick guard.“Jensyn Morrison was a new one. She did a loto on the inside and helped also on the outside. Taylor Edwards could get everybody calmed down. She could tell some jokes and was a unique kid. You couldn’t keep a straight face with her around.

“Alicia Adams had a good sense for basketball. Her mom was the junior high coach at Cowden before we came together. Alicia helped us offensively and defensively.

“The younger kids had gone to State and got third as seventh-graders. They all had some ball sense.

“This group of kids were rebuilders and built their house real quick. These girls were 26-7 and knew we had to work hard. We were still in the Highland Tournament. A lot of the games they had, they worked hard.

“We had a turning point where we started getting better and better. They knew what it was to win. They knew what it was like and they wanted to be back where they had been before. We pulled so many tricks out of our hat.

“One of the things that sticks in my mind, we had to get through Central A&M to get out of the regional. They were ranked but we weren’t. The kids can tell you a lot if you just listen to them. We had a team meeting a couple of nights before. I just wanted to throw something at them. I told the girls Central A&M knows our plays, what we are going to do and where we’re weak. What would you think if we put Micah at point guard and Ava at the post? Those two looked at me and they asked me if I was serious. I told them that’s how we’re going to start this. They have no game film on this way and we worked on it. When we beat them, that put faith, heart and guts into my kids. It was still one step at a time but that’s when they realized we could do it.”

The communities got behind the teams.

“We had a lot of good celebrations,” said Wendte. “I wanted our teams to be known as the teams that had heart and put it all out on the floor. We never wanted to be known as anything derogatory.

“I still carry a key card in my wallet the girls stole from a motel and they signed it and gave it to me. It’s a remembrance and they apologized for stealing it!

“When we went to State the first time, I didn’t even know how to react. We went out to play the third and fourth place game. They made me sign a waiver about a shirt we had brought along that had a strip on it that was an eighth of an inch too big and that’s illegal.

“I signed the waiver because we couldn’t have played otherwise. The kids yelled at me to sign it. I was so naive, just like the kids. We had to get new uniforms and the kids said at least we got new uniforms out of the deal. I didn’t have a clue that they measured your uniforms and it was an eye-opener.”

“All three of these teams going to State was wonderful. Everybody came together and backed everyone in the communities. It blows my mind that this all happened. We had great crowds and for some of the bigger schools at State, nobody showed up. The small communities, administrations and school kids were all so great.”