By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
My favorite story
In the back of my head, I think I knew my task wasn't possible. Still, I wanted to give it a shot.
So in mid-February, with the Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball team steamrolling any Class 2A opponent it faced, I set out to do a story that would try to determine whether the 2011-12 Lady Raiders were the best small-school girls basketball team of all-time. I began working on the story when QND still had two games to win to claim its second consecutive 2A title, but there was little doubt that would happen, and it did.
While working on the story, I talked to longtime media members around the state, longtime girls basketball coaches and former players from great teams. I read through old newspaper articles about some of the best small-school girls basketball teams of old. I acquired material from the IHSA's archives about past championship teams.
In the end, I spent more time working on that story than any other I've written in my career. I also had the longest story I'd ever written. And I didn't definitively answer the question that I had at the beginning. There was no way to say for sure whether the '11-12 Lady Raiders were the IHSA's best small-school girls team ever. Part of that depends on how each individual person defines "the best."
"It's almost impossible really to take this team and say how they would compare to a team from 30 years ago," Steve Tucker, longtime prep sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, said at the time.
Nevertheless, I ended up with a story that chronicled some of the best small-school girls basketball teams in IHSA history, and last year's QND squad definitely belonged on that list. The Lady Raiders also had a claim to being the most dominant small-school girls basketball team in Illinois history.
Dominant is more easily defined than best, and QND's average margin of victory of 42.5 points per game -- a figure that included an average margin of 46.7 points per game in the postseason -- probably gives the Lady Raiders the claim of being Illinois' most dominant small-school girls team ever. The Lady Raiders became the first team in that category to win every postseason game by double digits, with the closest margin being 31 points.
"I've tried to think of any team that was this dominant, and maybe I'm forgetting somebody, but at least for one given season, I just can't think of any team that's been this consistently dominant," Dave Kane, longtime prep sports writer for the Springfield State Journal-Register, said at the time.
What's certain is this: If you saw the 2011-12 Lady Raiders, you won't forget them or the way they played. They built a legacy that will last forever.
Game of the Year
Feb. 4, 2012
At The Pit
Quincy Notre Dame girls 48, Edwardsville 44
Until Feb. 4, QND was considered the best girls basketball team Class 2A had to offer. But after QND beat nationally ranked Edwardsville 48-44, the Lady Raiders elevated themselves into the discussion of being one of the top girls basketball teams in 2011-12 in all of Illinois, regardless of class.
It seemed every basketball fan in the area -- and plenty outside the area -- was at The Pit that night. There was a standing-room only crowd, and the place was rocking. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of this matchup that included feature Division I commits Jordan Frericks of QND and Emmonnie Henderson of Edwardsville.
Frericks outplayed her adversary, racking up 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven steals. Henderson battled foul trouble and was hounded by Frericks, who limited Henderson to four points.
Frericks got plenty of help from Kassidy Gengenbacher, who scored a game-high 16 points and made three key free throws down the stretch to help seal the win.
"We're so fired up right now, and we can't wait to play our next game," Gengenbacher said after the game.
QND's next game was its opener of the 2A postseason, where the Lady Raiders were never tested. Winning a second straight state title had to be nice for the Lady Raiders. It was also expected. The game against Edwardsville in front of a packed house is the win that will always stick with them.
Mid-West 10 – Goofy name, but otherwise good
When Quincy Notre Dame and Chillicothe IVC announced in February they'd be leaving the Mid-State Six Conference for the West Central Conference for football starting with the 2013 season, it set the ball in motion for the four Peoria schools from the MS6 to join the six Western Big Six Conference schools in football to form a 10-team Mid-West 10 Football Conference.
It needed to happen. There was much debate at the time about whether the WB6 should lend a helping hand to the MS6. For now, the merger is for football only, and maybe that's the way it should stay. The WB6 is fine without the MS6 in other sports.
But in football, the merger helped the WB6 just about as much as it helped the MS6. Sure, QHS's non-conference game against Hannibal was an unfortunate casualty, but who knows how long that game would have been played anyway? The rivalry was dormant since 1985 before it renewed in 2012.
The Peoria schools are a good fit geographically for the WB6. They'll also make the league even more competitive. Most importantly, WB6 schools won't have to travel four, five or six hours to play non-conference games against schools no one has ever heard of.
Three predictions for 2013
Run of titles could
Since the start of the 2010 calendar year, nine teams from The Herald-Whig's coverage area have won state titles. Six of those teams were from QND. There's a shot for more titles in 2013.
QND has a good shot to win its third straight girls basketball title despite moving up to 3A, although beating three-time defending champion Lombard Montini would be a formidable task. The Lady Raiders might also make a run at the 3A volleyball title, as they return every starter from this year's team that won 28 matches. Also, don't sleep on the South Shelby football team or the Quincy High School boys golf team, which bring back a lot of talent from this year's squads that made plenty of postseason noise.
Look out for the Wildcats
Considering the Culver-Stockton men's basketball team won four games a season ago, who could have predicted the Wildcats would be sitting here with a 12-2 record, including a 3-0 mark in the Heart of America Athletic Conference? A strong crop of transfers has led to a remarkable turnaround.
C-SC has so much balance and explosiveness on this team, it should contend for a HAAC title, and I'll take the Wildcats to earn one of the 32 spots in the NAIA National Tournament.
Watch out for the Cavemen
Predicting Prospect League success is a dangerous business because of the high rate of turnover teams experience from year to year. However, the Hannibal Cavemen seem to be headed in the right direction. Rick DeStefane brought ownership stability last summer, and the Cavemen achieved their second straight winning season and won the "Battle of the Paddle" rivalry series with the Quincy Gems for the first time. With just five teams in the West Division in 2013, a postseason berth for Hannibal seems like the next logical step.