Lady Raiders look for historic end to unbelievable era

The Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball team's starting five carries a 28-0 record into the Class 3A state tournament. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Feb. 28, 2013 11:58 am Updated: Mar. 14, 2013 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

Jordan Frericks and Kassidy Gengenbacher forever will be remembered for what they've helped the Quincy Notre Dame girls basketball team accomplish the last four years.

This weekend, they have the chance to become legendary.

No girls basketball team in the history of the Illinois High School Association state tournament series has ever won back-to-back state championships in different classifications. The Lady Raiders have that opportunity.

That's their focus.

"I think we need to keep our minds on what we're here to do," Gengenbacher said. "We're not there to have fun. We're there to play games and win a championship."

The first step toward that goal is at 2 p.m. Friday when QND, which won back-to-back Class 2A state championships before getting bumped to Class 3A this season, faces Morton the state semifinals at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal, Ill.

The Lady Raiders own a 122-5 record for the last four years and a 51-game winning streak. QND (28-0) has not lost to an Illinois school during the last three seasons.  Its last loss to an in-state opponent came in the Class 2A title game on Feb. 27, 2010, when QND lost 64-58 to Bloomington Central Catholic. 

"It is different in a way that it's going to be the last trip," Frericks said. "It's scary and nerve-wracking in some ways, but I'm excited. I'm sure Kassidy (Gengenbacher) and Abby (Grawe) are excited as well because we can end it on such a great accomplishment. 

"I don't think we will approach it any differently (than they have in the past)."

Winning a championship will likely require finding a way to beat Lombard Montini, which is 34-1 and ranked No. 1. The Lady Broncos will meet Vernon Hills (30-2) in the other semifinal at noon Friday.

Montini's seniors are also searching for their own piece of history, as a state title would make the Lady Broncos the first girls basketball program in IHSA history to win four straight championships.

QND has a chance to become the fourth girls basketball team in IHSA history to three-peat, joining Teutopolis (1988-90), Bolingbrook (2009-11) and Lombard Montini (2010-12).

So history could be made a variety of ways, something Lady Raiders coach Eric Orne has thought about.

"We knew coming into this year in the back of our minds that it was there," Orne said. "These girls have gone on a significant run and having a chance at history is beyond our wildest dreams. We understand we represent Quincy and the entire Quincy community in basketball right now. We want to go out there and have a good showing and continue to get the great support we've been getting. If all goes well and we get a win against Morton, we have an opportunity to set the table for something special."

Pursuing history won't overwhelm the Lady Broncos.

"I don't think we look at it was trying to win four, we are trying to win one this year," Montini coach Jason Nichols said. "That's what you have to do. If you consume yourself with anything else, you won't be playing very long. Last year was unexpected. We just wanted to get down there and get experience. We ended up winning the thing."

Getting past Morton won't be easy. The Potters are an athletic team led by University of Illinois commit Sarah Livingston, who averages 12.6 points per game. Two of Morton's four losses came when Livingston was out with an ankle injury.

"Morton is very capable of beating us," Orne said. "They are well-coached, very enthusiastic and they are the hot team right now coming into this matchup. … We have to be prepared and look at a lot of things they do and be prepared for their offensive sets. The Livingston girl is going to the University of Illinois for a reason. We have to make sure we make a lot of her shots difficult. If we can do that and force some turnovers early, we have a shot."

Playing in Class 3A for the first time since 2009 hasn't stifled the Lady Raiders. QND beat its first five playoff opponents by an average margin of 35.6 points per game.

Preparing for the playoffs involved beefing up its schedule. The Lady Raiders are 7-0 against state-ranked competition, including wins over Nashville, which won the Class 2A state title last Saturday, and Rolling Meadows, which will play in the Class 4A final four this weekend.

"We're really good at keeping our composure," Gengenbacher said. "We're only high schoolers, and we get a lot of pressure put on us at times. I think this team is good at bonding together as a family. Us being together as a team helps us on and off the court."

QND has benefitted from finding balance this season, too. While Kassidy Gengenbacher and Frericks led the team by averaging 18.5 and 17.7 points per game, respectively, Mary Beth Hugenberg (10.6 points per game) and Kristen Gengenbacher (9.6) have enhanced the Lady Raiders' attack.

It's put QND in position to complete its first undefeated season since 1983, when it finished 30-0 and won the Class A title.

"We don't really concentrate on streaks or anything," Kristen Gengenbacher said. "It (wining a title) would be special, but I don't think we should look at it like that until the season is over. We need to forget about the pressure that's on us and play the game. I think there's a lot of pressure. That comes along with playing the game and playing at Notre Dame. We've been playing with it for most of our lives, so it's not anything new to us."

Should both Montini and QND advance, Nichols believes it would make for a good matchup.

"Eric has played a good schedule and will have his kids ready," Nichols said. "They like to run, and Frericks is tough as heck. Obviously, they've had a lot of success. If we're fortunate and beat Vernon Hills, and QND wins, there is potential for a good game Saturday."

The Lady Raiders want to make this weekend memorable.

Actually, they have the chance to make it legendary.

"We have to take that one game at a time and go there with a mindset to be mentally and physically ready for the teams we're going to play," Kassidy Gengenbacher said. "If we do that, we'll come out successful."