Twice in the last two seasons, the Sherrard girls' basketball team has come within one win of breaking its lengthy sectional-championship drought, only to be denied each time.|
However, the Tigers have drawn closer to their first sectional-title plaque since 1990 -- going from a 17-point loss to Quincy Notre Dame at Manito two years ago to last year's one-point setback to Eureka in the Knoxville Sectional finals.
Now, coach Doug Swanson's 27-3 club, having set a single-season victory record with its 44-25 Orion Sectional semifinal win over Knoxville, believes it has the tools it needs to maintain that progression and finally get over the sectional hump when it takes on El Paso-Gridley (27-1) tonight at 7:30.
The winner will face either Peru St. Bede or Byron, out of the Somonauk Sectional, at Monday's Class 2A Monmouth Super-Sectional.
A balanced offense has been one of Sherrard's aces in the hole. While senior guard Carly Adams leads the way at 13 points per game, the rest of the Tiger starters -- seniors Erin Barton and Annie Winston and juniors Shelby Calderone and Riley Strandgard -- sport almost interchangable numbers.
Strandgard's 10 points per game seconds Adams, but the remaining trio all put up between eight and nine points per night, making the Tigers one tough group to plan for defensively.
"That's been the case all year,'' said Swanson. "We've been pretty balanced offensively, and that's one of our advantages. Other teams can't key on one person as much. We knew teams would try to key on Carly, who was one of our leaders last year.''
What's more, all five played key roles during last year's Sweet 16 run, and the majority of them were associated with the varsity two years ago, so experience is also a key factor.
"We had a lot of experience coming back, and we knew that would help,'' said Swanson. "We've got to play every game like it's our last, and leave it on the floor. Last year, we stayed with (Eureka) and pushed them to the end. This year, hopefully that continues. We want to get to the next stop in the postseason, and I think we're able to get it done.''
Annawan looks to do it again: The Annawan Bravettes (27-2) look to make it consecutive sectional crowns for the first time in their history when they tangle with Hinckley-Big Rock (15-11) tonight at 7:30 in the Class 1A Oglesby Sectional finals at Illinois Valley Community College.
The two teams met in this round last year, with Annawan cruising to a 53-32 decision over the Lady Royals en route to its first sectional crown since 1978. A win tonight sends the Bravettes back to Illinois Wesleyan University Mondayfor the Bloomington Super-Sectional against either LeRoy or Gilman Iroquois West.
While coach Jason Burkiewicz's club would love to have another crack at LeRoy, which defeated the Bravettes 56-53 in the 2012 Elite Eight, there's still tonight's business at hand, about which the third-year Annawan coach isn't worried.
"Their approach to the games has been outstanding,'' he said. "They're showing mental toughness and they're not afraid. They're playing relaxed and loose, and they feel it's their shot.''
What's more, should Annawan get back to the Elite Eight, it will do so with an extra added advantage, having played two sectional games on a regulation college floor similar to the one at IWU's Shirk Center -- and of course, Illinois State's Redbird Arena, the state site.
"No matter what,'' said Burkiewicz, "we're on a college-sized court the rest of the year.''
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