Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"It's our time"; Metamora Girls Basketball preparing for potentially historic 2018-19 season

Metamora Head Coach Brianna Morrow directs Monday's practice.
PHOTO / MIKE ROEDELL
Metamora, Ill. - Reagan Begole. Anne Peters. Alivia West. Put the three together and that's 849 points out of the 1,344 points that the Metamora Girls Basketball team scored a season ago. All three of them return, headlining just part of a team that has big things in mind for 2018-19.

Championship. It's a word that hasn't been associated with the program since the late 2000's, but it's back. Why? It's things like returning about 80% of the scoring, all but 12 of the 3's made all season, and much more. Let's work our way up this list of things that could happen this time around. Morton, possibly Canton, maybe even Washington, are just a few names that stand in the way of a Mid-Illini title.

To start, a 20-win season. It hasn't been done since 2008-2009, exactly 10 seasons ago. That seems to be quite feasible this time around, considering the Redbirds were (15-13) a year ago. Looking at the fact that some teams don't have back what Metamora has, and the number of close losses that could've been wins last year, it all seems to add up on paper. But how are they dealing with these expectations? Reagan Begole says it turns into a motivational factor.

"I think that's definitely a goal for us (20-win season). A lot of teams in our conference did that last year. We do use that (expectations) as motivation. I wouldn't say that we shy away from any of that. It's our time. It's our time to show people what we have."

The core of players returning isn't all that's back. Brianna Morrow returns for her fifth year at the helm, garnering a lot of praise from Begole.

"I think it shows on Coach Morrow's part too. She's really turning this program around."

Morrow thinks that 20-win season is something that's not too far-fetched of a goal, and that's not all.

"I think it's very doable for a 20-win season. I think a regional championship is very doable. I think vying for that conference title is doable. We are definitely a top team contending in conference this year. We've got to be solid and disciplined and mentally tough enough to rise to those expectations."

Anne Peters, in her second year with the Redbirds after transferring from rival Washington, is looking forward to the series against her former school, but also cites that it needs to wait until they are the next game.

"I think the first thing on our checklist to accomplish is just taking it one game at a time. Obviously, when the time comes, when we do play Washington, which we do play them on their Senior Night, so it would be really fun to get a win."

Washington isn't the only team that Metamora has circled on their calendar. Morton is another series that gives the Redbirds arguably their best chance to beat the Potters since the mid-2000's. Yet Peters says they aren't worried about that.

"Right now, we can't necessarily guarantee everything. They still have two girls who are Division-I committed athletes. I think it's still going to be a challenge, but it's going to be different than last year."

Peters went on to say that, in her opinion, the Redbirds, Morton, and Washington are "the most versatile teams to beat in the conference".

Metamora senior Reagan Begole puts up a shot during Monday's practice.
PHOTO / MIKE ROEDELL
The only question will be how that is perceived in the public eye, something that hasn't been all that kind to the Redbirds in years past. Begole agrees.

"A lot of times, I feel like people still take us lightly. That's to our advantage. We can show up and beat people that aren't expecting us to be any good."

What is it going to make the public appreciate how good this group of girls are? Kaylee Hieronymus says it's about dealing with the pressure.

"It's a lot more pressure, considering last year, we got to the regional championship, and we were really close. I think we're going to wait and work our butts off and see where our season takes us. As the season goes on, we'll work farther to get a championship."

Those returning players will play a major role in working towards that championship level. Hieronymus says that there's a good level of confidence around the team.

"We're really confident with our shooters. Anne and Reagan pull through a lot. Having Liv (Alivia West), she's one of our bigs in the post."

Redbird senior Anne Peters puts up a free throw during Monday's practice.
PHOTO / MIKE ROEDELL
The question being, do they use this newfound confidence, do they use these expectations, should they all be used as motivational factors, or rather be pushed to the side and just be 'rat poison' as Alabama football coach Nick Saban would say. Coach Morrow says it's a mixture.

"We know going in that we have talent and ability and that we have high expectations. We've set high expectations. We're really pushing them to work hard every day, get better. It's not something we dwell on every day. We're just taking it one day at a time."

Morrow did add that she came to Metamora because of the vision for this program.

"I want to be at a place where there's expectations. I want to be at a place where winning is important. I've always thrived on that as a coach. Mr. Toepke (former MTHS Superintendent) was clear that we want to build this program into a winning program, and we want it to be successful year after year. It's exactly the things that I wanted."

Metamora freshman Kayla Pacha shoots a jumper during Monday's practice.
PHOTO / MIKE ROEDELL
Headed into the 2018-19 season, Metamora returns nearly 90% of its scoring. It's something that Coach Morrow really appreciates.

"That's really encouraging, that's really comforting. I feel like they've (new kids) got scoring capabilities as well. Those three (Begole, Peters, West) may end up carrying most of the load for us. However, I do feel comfortable knowing that the other kids are going to step on the floor and shoot, get to the basket, and they can rebound."

The one thing that may catch fans off guard is that all but one of the first five games are at home, all part of the Galesburg Thanksgiving Tournament. It's something that has the entire team excited, but also leaves them wondering what the fan support will be like. Hieronymus says it's something worth looking forward to.

"It's very exciting. We're excited to have more home games and see if people actually come out and support us."

Begole seconds that, adding that "playing in front of your fans and your family is also really fun".

Peters says that it "should be a confidence booster", adding that "people should be coming out and supporting us, especially since our games are at home. She closed by saying that "hopefully, if we get a lot of people out here, it will be that confidence boost, and I'm excited for it."

Coach Morrow focused more on how tough of a draw it is, home, away, or neutral.

"To be able to host those games is huge for us. It's a tough tournament. We've got a really tough draw. To be able to have a little bit of a home court advantage will be really nice."

The one road/neutral game the Redbirds do have is reigning 1A champ Danville Schlarman. That game will be Friday, November 16th, at Galesburg. Morrow is fine with that.

"That's alright. They're a great team to play. We'll have fun with that matchup."

When asked if the program is at a point where the lack of a conference title or regional title, or both, would be a disappointment, Morrow said the she doesn't know, adding though that "I do like the pressure of it".

With the expectations coming in from the outside, Morrow says you have to focus on you, not them.

"We're going to focus on the inner circle and not really the outside. We've been close, last year and two years before that, but we just haven't been able to get over that hump. That's what we're striving for."

Expectations lead to excitement. Begole and Peters had slightly differing circumstances, but still had the same level of anticipation. Begole is fresh off a volleyball season that ended with a loss to LaSalle-Peru in the Regional Championship.

"It (basketball) kind of ran up on me quick. Just because of volleyball. We're coming off the low of ending that (volleyball) season. For me, it's like coming back home because I love basketball and I'm finally getting to play again."

Peters said it's an excitement that can be shared not just in basketball, but across all sports.

"I was so excited for today (Monday). Any sport, when you're starting, you're just excited to be with your team. You're excited to grind it out all season. Today, we showed that we have some things to work on, but it's like that every first practice."

A confirmed new face within the program is Ryan Davis, Germantown Hills Girls Basketball Coach. Davis will serve as the Sophomore Head Coach for the Redbirds.

The Redbirds will unofficially kick off the 2018-2019 schedule with Emphasis Night, the fans first chance to meet the team. The festivities get underway at 6:00 pm from Toepke Gym at MTHS.

2018-2019 Regular Season Schedule:
November
8 | Emphasis Night | 6 pm
13 | vs. Springfield High | 6 pm
16 | Schlarman (@ Galesburg) | 7:30 pm (approx.)
20 | vs. Sacred Heart-Griffin | 6 pm
23 | vs. Pontiac | 11 am
23 | vs. Rockford East | 2 pm
27 | @ Bloomington | 7 pm
29 | vs. East Peoria | 7 pm
December
4 | @ Peoria Notre Dame | 7 pm
7 | @ Limestone | 7 pm
11 | @ Dunlap | 7 pm
13 | vs. Morton | 6:30 pm
15 | Ottawa Christmas Tournament | Time(s) TBA
21-22 | Ottawa Christmas Tournament | Time(s) TBA
January 
4 | vs. Pekin | 7 pm
8 | vs. Canton | 7 pm
12 | @ East Peoria | 7 pm
15 | vs. Washington | 7 pm
18 | @ Pekin | 7 pm
22 | vs. Dunlap | 7 pm
26 | @ Morton | 6:30 pm
29 | vs. Lincoln | 7 pm
February
1 | vs. Limestone (Senior Night) | 7 pm
5 | @ Washington | 7 pm
8 | @ Canton | 7 pm

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