Prep Girls Basketball

Missouri girls looking to change way Classic is trending

The Illinois girls go through drills during a practice at Quincy University's Pepsi Arena in preparation for the 37th annual McDonald's/Herald-Whig Classic. | H-W Photo/Katelyn Metzger
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 15, 2019 1:00 am Updated: Jun. 15, 2019 9:02 am

QUINCY -- Recent history suggests the Illinois all-stars have taken control of the McDonald's/Herald-Whig Classic girls series.

That doesn't sit well with those from the Show-Me State.

"It puts an extra chip on our shoulder," Highland forward Kennedy Flanagan said. "It's extra motivation."

This just might be the team that turns the tide.

The combination of size, high-level talent and versatility suggests the Show-Me State might have the advantage come 5 p.m. Saturday when the 37th annual game tips off at Quincy University's Pepsi Arena.

Illinois won last year's Classic 71-58 and has won six of the last seven to close the gap in the all-time series to 19-17, but that Land of Lincoln crew didn't have to contend with a formidable front court.

"We have lots of height," said the 6-foot Flanagan, who has signed to play for former Quincy University coach JD Gravina at Western Illinois University. "We should use that to our advantage. We have girls who know how to play big."

More importantly, they know how to finish.

The four biggest players on Missouri's roster -- 6-2 Audrey Fohey of Palmyra, 6-1 Autumn Bigsby of Hannibal, 5-11 Sidney Miller of Knox County and Flanagan -- each shot 45 percent or better from the field. Flanagan is the most prolific scorer of the bunch, averaging 18 points and setting the Cougars' single-game scoring record with a 41-point outburst, but the others are equally capable.

Miller averaged 16.8 points and 4.7 rebounds, while Fohey averaged 12.1 points and six rebounds.

The unselfish nature of the guards makes it easier for the bigs to score.

"And there's good chemistry," Flanagan said. "You're rooting for them now instead of getting ticked off at them because of something they did playing against you. You're pulling for each other because you're teammates."

That didn't take long to develop on either side.

"They all get along and are pretty unselfish players," said Illinois coach Martin Pazanin, who recently resigned at Quincy High School to become an assistant coach with the Culver-Stockton College men's basketball program. "They're all smart. We've put in a couple of simple offenses this week, and after we practiced for an hour, they had it down pretty well. It's definitely a high IQ group."

There's a wealth of backcourt talent, too. The Land of Lincoln is led by Quincy University signee Laney Lantz, the Central-Southeastern guard who scored more than 2,000 points in her career and averaged 23.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game.

She'll be flanked by Quincy High School's Stephanie Anders and Kiley Espinoza, Brown County's Ally Heldt, West Hancock's Emma Knipe and the Unity duo of Kaylee Nichols and Addison Miller, giving Pazanin options to take pressure off the front court.

"I'm trying not to be overly serious," Pazanin said. "It's still an all-star game and you don't want get overly wrapped up in it, but the girls are taking it serious. It's really important to them to play well and play the best they can."

It's more than a game about bragging rights for most of the players. It's their passion.

"It's a pretty widespread area, but most of these girls have played against each other," Niemann said. "That's what it's all about for these kids, getting in there and performing in a sport they've probably played since first or second grade.

"For some of them, it's the last hoorah to play in front of family and friends."

That can bring out the best in all of them.

"I've been to a majority of those games," said Niemann, whose daughter, Tori, and son, Tyler, both played in the Classic. "I've always enjoyed sitting and watching the talent and the drama and the excitement."