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MTZ girls basketball wins regional championship

2023 IHSA 3A Regional Championship. The Mt. Zion girls basketball team wins the 2023 IHSA 3A Regional championship at Eisenhower. Pictured front row, left to right, Naomi Schmahl, Avery Kyburz, Kennedy Highley, Kallianna Becker, Ally Root, Addison Rotz and Ella Fink. Back row, left to right, Head Coach Steve Marvel, Assistant Coach Mikayla Lehman, Anna Cox, Miya Means, Ava Anderson, Chloe Williams, Alex Smith, Jocelyn Turner, Bracie Barnes, Maddie Kendall, Denver Anderson, Jillian Rocky and Assistant Coach Jeff Schumate.

By BLAKE FAITH
Staff Writer

The Mt. Zion girls basketball team won its first regional championship last week defeating Chatham-Glenwood 48-44 in the IHSA 3A Regional Championship at Eisenhower. Denver Anderson scored 26 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished six assists.

“I was nervous all day today,” Head coach Steve Marvel said. “I was up early, I wasn’t really functional at work, to be honest with you, I kept thinking about the game and I probably hit the bathroom about 20 times today just outta nerves and everything. But we make things interesting. We don’t make things easy a lot of times and thank God I already have gray hair because I’d have it if I didn’t. The girls have earned this. They have worked hard. I, you know, I got a text today from Abby Scharf that just said, Hey good luck and I reminded her that she’s a part of this because she helped set the culture last year and in the regional game last year, even though we lost it, Rochester, the way she came out and set the tone diving on the ground after loose balls, we were in that game. We played, we were competitive, we played one of the best games we did all year. And so, it’s like I told her, I said you share this and all the kids that were here last year helped get this culture, you know, where we wanted to be and they held together.”

Late in the second quarter, the Braves trailed the Titans 18-11. Anderson started an eight point run for herself and the Braves to give the Braves their first lead since early in the first quarter.

Titans’ Rowan Law then made a steal and layup to give the Titans a 20-19 lead and then fished an assist to Makenna Yeager who nailed the three-pointer to give the Titans a 23-19 win lead.

The Titans ended the first half ahead 26-24. In the third quarter, Anderson made a steal to begin the quarter and made two free-throws at the line to tie the game. Jocelyn Turner then made an Offensive putback to put the Braves up 28-26.

The Braves continued to rely on Anderson and Turner to score and they did as they built on their lead with both making layups and imposing their will down in the paint to go into the fourth quarter ahead 35-30.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Titans fought their way back to tie the game 36-36. Anderson then got the ball on the right-wing and fired the three-point shot and scored to give the Braves a 39-36 lead with 5:55 remaining in the game. Then Anderson made a steal and finished at the rim to put the Braves up 41-36.

The Titans continued to fight, but the Braves continued to hold on. Karley Hawkins made a steal for the Titans on Maddie Kendall, but Maddie Kendall chased down Hawkins and made a block.

The Titans scored eight unanswered points to cut the Braves lead to 46-44. With the Titans getting a possession, Ella Fink and Kallianna Becker pressured the Titans’ offense to turn the ball over. Then Turner was fouled on the inbound play and nailed two free-throws to give her 19 points on the night and the Braves a 48-44 lead.

“Honestly, we had a horrible first quarter. We acted like we didn’t want the ball at all and had some silly turnovers and it looked like we felt like we didn’t deserve to be here,” Coach Marvel said. “I told them we had a bad quarter but we had a really good second quarter and I said, this is gonna be the reverse of our game with them at their place where they scored double digits in the last two quarters. I said, we’re gonna hold them in single digits the next two quarters and it’s going to hinge on our defenses. And we came out in the third quarter and they didn’t score for over five minutes. We Got smart on the offensive end and not forcing stuff, we handled the ball better. We had a couple turnovers at the end that we’ll work on moving forward.

But, I’m so happy for the girls because they worked so hard. They bought in and I’m, I’m glad that they get to celebrate getting this moment and adding to this to part of their legacy. You got Bracie Barnes and Kallianna Becker who now have two regional championships. You have to go back to 2002, 2003 for anybody from Mount Zion girls basketball to say they had more than one regional championship. So now this, this is our expectations moving forward. We wanna be in a regional championship game year. So that’s what our hope is.”

The Braves improved to 23-8 overall and will face Lincoln in the sectional semifinal on Tuesday.

We’re going to put in a new defense and see how it may be two, see how they work and go to work on some offensive stuff to be patient and strong with the ball and we are going to slow it down,” Coach Marvel said. “They’re an outstanding team. Nobody expects us to win. I always watch Channel 1450. They’re already talking about Lincoln and Lincoln winning the sectional. I listened to Rochester’s coach after they’re winning in the regional last night against Springfield. He’s already talking about if they win against Mahomet-Seymour, Lincoln’s gonna be waiting for them. And it’s not disrespectful to us because Lincoln is a machine and Lincoln has destroyed us twice this year. But we have, we have the players and the skillset that we can be in the game with them and make it interesting. And that’s all we’re going to focus on. We want to keep it close. We wanna keep it single digits as long as we can and then hopefully they’re not used to being in that situation. Maybe it’ll, it’ll get them to do some things that aren’t characteristic of them and they’re incredibly well coached. They have great basketball IQ, great talent, so we gotta work it out for us. But you know what, if we go out and we compete and we keep it close, there’s no shame in it if we don’t get a win. But you know what, nobody’s expecting us to win, so let’s go, let’s go do it. We’d play the game and we’ll see what happens.”

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