By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- Maggie Bowles always plays with a sense of urgency. The Unity junior guard remembers all too well what happened when the Lady Mustangs didn't last season.
In Unity's second-round game against Macomb at the Beardstown Lady Tigers Classic, the Lady Mustangs were sluggish and lost to a team they had beaten by 12 points earlier in the season.
Third-seeded Unity will open the 24-team Beardstown tournament Wednesday against the winner of No. 14 West Hancock and No. 19 Beardstown. The Lady Mustangs are determined to improve on their fifth-place finish from last year.
"That was a turning-point game for us," Bowles said of the loss to Macomb. "We didn't come out fired up because we had already beat them and assumed we would beat them again. It woke us up and let us know we have to work hard every game no matter who we're playing."
Unity coach Brad Begeman feels the Lady Mustangs earned some respect when they were awarded with the third seed. Now, he wants to see them live up to the billing.
During Unity's 12-1 start, the Lady Mustangs have won with balance. Bowles and Jill Donley provided outside shooting, while Breanne Begeman and Brooklyn Moore have provided interior scoring.
"Other teams can't focus on anything," Begeman said. "They can't focus on one set person. We've had four different girls lead us in scoring. There have been nights where we've hit seven 3-pointers and nights when we'd pound it inside. … We can adapt to whatever style they want."
Earning a championship will be a tough task as top-seeded Illini Bluffs (13-1) carries a No. 4 state ranking in Class 1A. Second-seeded Canton (7-1) is also off to a strong start.
Bowles believes Unity can compete with any team in the tournament, especially after the Lady Mustangs' fast start.
"It gives us a ton of confidence, being able to think like that," Bowles said. "It makes you fear no one."
Eighth-seeded Liberty-Payson also received a bye and will play the winner of No. 9 South Fulton and No. 24 Abingdon.