David Adam

QND seniors finally make their own mark on program

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 19, 2018 12:45 am

As Erika Eaton and Molly Penn posed for photos with friends and family after Friday night's double overtime victory in the Class 3A Macomb Regional championship, they didn't just hold the plaque.

They hugged it. They caressed it. Because few thought they would ever touch it.

Part of the reason was because the Raiders entered the postseason with a 12-11 record, and they needed to defeat two teams with at least 20 victories -- Dunlap and Canton -- to claim the title.

Part of the reason, also, was because this senior class was punished for the "sins" of previous teams.

During a five-year span from the 2009-10 season to the 2013-14 season, QND took second in Class 2A, then won two straight Class 2A titles, a Class 3A title and third place in Class 3A. The implementation of the Illinois High School Association's success factor meant after the girls who were responsible for those trophies had graduated, the incoming girls who had nothing to do with them were forced to play in Class 4A for two years and Class 3A for two years.

So you'll have to excuse the senior class -- which also includes reserves Keiley Meyer and Beth Eversman -- for relishing Friday night's victory just a little bit more than the rest.

"When we had to play in Class 4A my sophomore year, I remember thinking, ‘What did we do to deserve this?'" said Eaton, who caught a long baseball pass from Penn and made a buzzer-beating 15-foot shot to force overtime against Canton on Friday.

"Our hard work has finally paid off. We always thought we would be the underdogs. We never thought we could win a regional in Class 3A."

(Note: The Raiders will return to Class 2A next season unless they qualify for this year's Class 3A state tournament.)

Not only was this postseason road much more difficult for the Raiders, but they also had to adjust to their fourth coach in four seasons. Kevin Meyer coached them as freshmen, but when he took the boys job in 2014-15, Eric Orne returned to the bench as part of a one-year deal.

Andy Waggoner guided QND last year, and now Orne is back for what he promises will be a longer stay.

When he watched his team rally twice in the final seconds of regulation play and the first overtime before finally winning, his initial reaction was not joy.

"It was relief," he said after Friday's game. "For all these girls have been through, with four coaches in four years, they deserve the plaque. They've been through so much.

"I want them to enjoy this moment, because it's special."

Winning Tuesday's sectional semifinal against Morton will be a tall task. The Potters are to Class 3A basketball now what QND was in Class 2A earlier this decade. In fact, the Raiders defeated Morton 67-51 in the semifinals in 2013 on their way to their Class 3A title.

Morton now is the three-time state champion and the No. 1-ranked team in the state.

Orne is just thrilled his team gets the chance.

"Now we get to play a team we've got some history with, and they're the top dog," he said. "At this time of the year, it's what you want to do.

"(Winning the regional) just re-sows the roots we once held."

It also gives the senior class the opportunity to make their own impact on a storied basketball program.

"This is super huge," Penn said. "It's like getting back to what Notre Dame basketball was, and to do it in Class 3A makes it even better.

"It's kind of like, no matter where you put us, we're still going to work hard."