By Caleb Motsinger
The Civic Memorial girls basketball team celebrates in Carbondale after winning their school's first sectional.
CARBONDALE – Jonathan Denney has played and coached basketball at Civic Memorial High for nearly 20 years. So he has seen his share of big baskets and witnessed a few bad bounces.
Yet Denney, the Eagles’ eight-year girls head coach, encountered a new experience Thursday. He welcomed it with open arms and then embraced it.
The Eagles celebrated a sectional championship, the first in school history. CM, 31-2, defeated host Carbondale, 56-40, and is bound for Monday’s Decatur Class 3A Super-Sectional at Millikin University.
“Winning the sectional and doing it for our community makes it part of something special,” Denney said. “We thought we were capable of winning one last season, so everything we did in the off-season was for that.”
It should come as no surprise. The Eagles will carry a 15-game winning streak into the super date with perennial state power Quincy Notre Dame, a 56-41 winner over Rochester in the Normal Sectional. The Raiders are the three-time defending state champions.
“It won’t be easy Monday, but it’s a great opportunity,” Denney said.
CM, though, senses it has a chance to knock off the Raiders and advance to the state semifinals at Illinois State University in Normal. The Decatur Super-Sectional winner plays the Romeoville Super-Sectional survivor at 2 p.m. Friday in Redbird Arena. The finals are Saturday afternoon.
“We’re trying to go as far as we can,” said CM’s Hannah Neimeier, a 5-foot-7 senior guard.
Success has tailed the Eagles throughout the season. They won the Jersey Christmas Tournament and the 40th annual Carrollton one. It was their first Carrollton championship. They finished second to Quincy Notre Dame at Carrollton last season.
Their only losses have been to Teutopolis in the finals of the Salem tourney and to Highland in a regular-season game.
The Eagles shared the Mississippi Valley Conference championship with the Bulldogs, but then defeated them to win the Triad Regional title. CM went 3-1 against Highland this season.
“Everyone wants to beat us,” said 5-7 guard Brittany Zipprich, one of seven seniors on the team. “So we can’t take anything for granted.”
Lindsey Fencel, a 5-6 senior; Addie Ballard, a 5-11 senior; and Megan Trost, a 6-0 senior; join Zipprich and Niemeier in the starting lineup. Fencel is going on to play soccer at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“They are a senior-laden team and a good team,” Alton coach Bobby Rickman said of the Eagles. “They have a lot of experience.”
And that know-how enables the Eagles to work together and employ a pressure defense that has caused fits for foes.
“They can speed you up and we don’t see that kind of pressure in Class 1A,” Calhoun coach Aaron Baalman said after the Eagles defeated the Warriors for the Carrollton title.
He added, “All of their seniors can get up and down the court and they know what they need to do on offense.”
Niemeier pointed out, “We rely on our defense and try to score by turning our defense into offense.”
Taylor Wieneke, a 5-6 senior guard and Jennifer Guetersloh, a 5-9 senior forward; bring depth to the team. Allie Troeckler, a 5-11 freshman, is showing signs of being the Eagles’ future standout – the “sixth starter.” Troeckler is averaging 13.3 points per game, tops on the team.
Trost, the Alton Exchange Club’s Player of the Year in 2013, is next at 12.3. Katelyn Turbyfill, a 5-9 sophomore; Kalyn Troxell, a 6-2 sophomore; Ellie Cummins, a 5-7 sophomore; Journey Coffman, a 5-9 sophomore; Kylie Linkeman, a 5-9 sophomore; Annika Ochs, a 5-4 freshman; Gwen Lewis, a 5-6 freshman; and Katie Kappler, a 5-10 freshman, round out the 16-player roster.
The Eagles seemed plenty focused Thursday. They led 25-2 before Carbondale knew what hit the Terriers. A pre-game speech by CM graduate Mike Dreith, the president of nearby John A. Logan Community College in Carterville, may have inspired them.
“He talked about how no (basketball) team in school history had won a sectional championship and how important it was,” Troeckler said. “He said how much it would mean to the town if we did it.”
So the Eagles, whose girls program dates to the 1980-81 season, went out and did it. The CM guys have been playing basketball since 1949-50.
“It really meant a lot to us,” Ballard said of Dreith’s words. “Our big goal was to win the sectional because we had never done that.”
The next goal is a berth in the Final Four at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena and a 2 p.m. date Friday against either Washington or Joliet Catholic.