BY MARVIN HOLMAN
The core unit of the Schlarman Academy seventh grade girls basketball team have been together for as long as three years.
For this season, it seems like the Hilltoppers’ chemistry came together at the right time and that has been very bad news for their opponents.
The Hilltoppers are 20-0 this season entering today’s IESA Class 1A championship game against Lincoln West Lincoln-Broadwell at Normal’s Chiddix Junior High School. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“The years they had spent together had them prepared for this season,” Schlarman coach Keith Peoples said. “This is a very unified team and that experience of being together is paying off.”
Guards Arieal Scott, Anaya Peoples and Sabrina Hantz along with post players Janie Gross and Jayden King have been together since fifth grade with Alexis Dietzen along for two years.
“Janie is 5-feet, 8-inches and is a good rebounder for us and Alexis is a shot blocker,” Keith Peoples said. “Anaya can score but she is always willing to pass and is a great ball handler.
“Arieal is a bull’s eye shooter and it seems like she thinks that whenever she get son the court, she can make it from anywhere.”
Schlarman advanced to the title game with a 40-31 win over Peoria Limestone Walters in the quarterfinals and a 44-20 win over Sigel St. Michael’s in the semifinals.
Scott made a state-record six 3-pointers in the game against St. Michael’s, breaking the record of four set by Springfield Calvary’s Zahna Medley.
Peoples said that the Hilltoppers’ team dynamic has been the key point in the success of the team.
“They are a team where everyone understands their role,” Peoples said. “Everyone knows their limitations and that means a lot.”
It also means a lot is building for the future as Peoples has brought fifth and sixth graders up to get some time during the playoffs.
“We brought them up to see if they can contribute now and also this can only help when they go to sixth or seventh grade.”
One of those contributors from the sixth grade is Carrigan Gard, who Peoples says provides a defensive spark off the bench.
Lincoln West Lincoln-Broadwell is also undefeated with an 18-0 mark and Peoples saw some similarities with his team.
“They are pretty solid team and they use a strong press,” Peoples said. “To combat that, you need speed and ball handling and I think we do have that to counter the press. They also have a player that makes all the big plays for them when they need it.”