Prep Girls Basketball

Show-Me Showcase: Adrenalin, size and smiles allow Missouri girls to roll

By SHANE HULSEY
Sports Writer | 217-221-3376
sports@whig.com | @WhigSports
Posted: Jun. 16, 2019 12:30 am Updated: Jun. 18, 2019 12:59 am

QUINCY -- Highland girls basketball coach Meleia Niemann worked the McDonald's/Herald-Whig Classic once before.

She was an assistant for the Missouri team in 2010, but this was her first time at the helm of the Missouri all-stars.

One thing stood out to Niemann above everything else Saturday night.

"What I loved most, regardless of what the score was, whether they were winning or losing, was the smiles," she said. "Somebody would hit a shot and they'd point to the passer and they'd both just have huge smiles on their faces. Or somebody would make a great move and the whole bench would be loving it. That's what an all-star game is supposed to be."

The girls from the Show-Me State broke a recent trend of Illinois dominance, topping the Land of Lincoln 70-52 in the Classic's 37th edition. Coming into Saturday, Illinois had won in six of the previous seven meetings.

Niemann said she didn't put much emphasis on the rivalry in the days leading up to the game.

"We just stressed having fun," she said. "Just go out, work hard and compete. It's what you've done your whole life. Sure, we wanted to win and represent Missouri, but it's more important to me as a coach that they go out there and have fun."

Highland's Audrey Fohey won Most Outstanding Player for Missouri, matching Canton's Laken Hugenberg with a team-high 13 points and leading all players with 12 rebounds.

Fohey, unlike several other players in this game, is not playing basketball at the next level. As such, she had only hit the hardwood as recently as a week ago.

"The first time I'd picked up a basketball since the season ended was last Saturday," she said, "so I was a little rusty. My shot was OK. It was the dribbling part that gave me some trouble."

So what contributed to those 13 points and 12 rebounds?

"The adrenaline certainly helped, and I drank a lot of caffeine before this," she said with a chuckle.

Fohey was the third player from Palmyra in the last seven seasons to win Missouri's Most Outstanding Player.

Highland's Kaitlin Benson had 11 points, six assists and four steals. Autumn Bigsby, Kennedy Flanagan and Aubry Boulware each had eight points. Every player on the Missouri team scored at least two points, while Flanagan also grabbed eight rebounds.

Central-Southeastern's Laney Lantz scored the first basket of the game for Illinois, but Missouri went on a 10-0 run and never trailed the rest of the game. The Show-Me State led by as many as 25 and its lead never dipped below 16 points in the second half.

Lantz only made it to one practice and the shootaround Saturday morning because she was on vacation, but the absence didn't seem to have too much of an effect on her game. She led all scorers with 16 points, including 14 in the second half, and earned Most Outstanding Player honors for Illinois.

Lantz said her teammates didn't have any qualms about her missing practice.

"All the girls accepted me with open arms," she said. "We really just wanted to play together."

Quincy's Sarah Nelson, who will join Lantz to play for Jeni Garber at Quincy University, said the relationships the players developed playing against and now with each other will carry over into their college careers.

"A lot of us know each other pretty well because we've played against each other forever," she said. "We've talked about going to each other's games in college and continuing to support each other. We may have been rivals, but now we're definitely cheering each other on."

Quincy High School coach Martin Pazanin, who coached the Illinois all-stars, was quite impressed with the atmosphere.

"Not every all-star game is like this," he said. "There's sometimes 20 or 30 people in the crowd at some of these other high school all-star games. This game in particular shows how seriously they take athletics around here."

Pittsfield's Lilly Pepper had eight points and a team-high nine rebounds. Unity's Addison Miller had three steals and three assists to go along with four points. Nelson had six points and three rebounds. West Hancock's Emma Knipe pulled down seven rebounds.