Effingham Daily News
CHBC may seem like a lock to advance deep in the playoffs after its recent string of tournament success, but head coach Carolyn Wendte is quick to point out this hasn't always been the case.
Wendte spent years leading talented CHBC teams into the post-season, only to see the Lady Hornets fall short of advancing past the regional round. Then, in 2009-10, CHBC got its first taste of playoff greatness, capturing the sectional title.
"It all comes from getting there once," Wendte said. "I kept telling (these teams), if they would taste it, they would love it. Once they got the taste, they would be hungry for more."
Just freshmen on that legendary 09-10 squad, Micah Jones and Ava Paruleski took that message to heart. The two have been staples on the CHBC lineup since that first tournament run, helping guide the Lady Hornets to a 29-4 record and runner-up finish in the Class 1A state title game last season.
Now, in their final seasons, the two are leading a CHBC squad that stands at 25-5 and has again advanced past the sectional round. The Lady Hornets won the Altamont Sectional title with their 63-55 victory of Central A&M, pushing them into Monday's super-sectional round of eight at Salem High School. Wendte, not surprisingly, sees the same desire in her seniors' eyes this season that she first witnessed three years ago.
"They have determination," Wendte said, "and they don't want to lose. Micah has some pretty high expectations, like the rest of the girls, she wants to put another (banner) on the wall."
CHBC's playoff run started with a dominating 79-17 win over Ramsey in which the Lady Hornets shot 52 percent from the floor, dished out 25 total assists and turned the ball over just five times. Jones led four Lady Hornets in double figures, scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. While the win would have satisfied many other head coaches, Wendte's expectations of greatness led her to identify a number of flaws in the monstrous victory.
"As soon as you stop focusing, you develop bad habits," Wendte said. "Then when you play the more competitive teams you carry those with you, and you could lose a game you shouldn't lose. We didn't have crisp passes and we missed four or five bunnies at the rim. At the championship level, if you start out like that it's hard to come back."
CHBC responded to the challenge in its next two games, starting with a 30-point drubbing over the Indians of Altamont in the South Central Regional title. Paruleski was a force against Altamont, putting on a 3-point display with six made triples en route to her 20-point performance. More importantly, she directed an efficient offense that topped 70 points for the second straight game.
"Ava knew, coming into this year, she was going to be the point guard," Wendte said. "She's an excellent kid, handles the ball well and reads the flow. As she goes we go, she doesn't always score the most points but she makes sure everyone is where they need to be on the floor and knows what plays we need to run."
With a South Central Regional title under its belt, CHBC advanced to the sectional semifinal where Wendte was pitted against her sister, Donetta Ohnesorge of Dieterich. Though they had already played twice in the regular season, where the Lady Hornets picked up two victories, Wendte lost plenty of sleep with a sectional final berth on the line.
"That's for sure," Wendte said. "I hate that I had to play my sister, but it had to happen. I was also looking forward to that game because Candace [Niemerg] and Micah had another chance to battle against each other."
In one of the most entertaining one-on-one matchups of the year, Dieterich's Candace Niemerg and CHBC's Jones each scored 27 points and 15 rebounds. The two constantly called for and received the ball in the high post, then displayed a wide array of offensive moves to score at the basket. But Jones and her Lady Hornets had the last laugh, besting Dieterich 65-46 to move to the Altamont Sectional title against a familiar foe who had the Lady Hornets' number in earlier contests, Central A&M.
"We've got a pretty good rivalry going with A&M," Wendte said. "In summer league they beat us by 24, but that's summer league. Then they came out and beat us by 10 in the regular season."
The sectional title proved to be another story, as CHBC used a 13-point run to start the fourth quarter to create needed separation in its 63-55 win. For Wendte, the turning point happened toward the end of the run, when the Lady Hornets' defense answered the call.
"I think around the four-minute mark, they ran 1:30 off the clock and still didn't get it inside," she said. "Our fans got up and clapped, and the girls started feeling it a little bit, there were some smiles. We saw a little fright in their eyes."
Like they had all season, Jones and Paruleski lit up the score sheet again, scoring 27 and 11 points respectively. Yet the difference may have been fellow senior Autumn Riley, who scored nine critical points and pulled in five crucial rebounds that helped propel CHBC to the win.
"Autumn's a good kid," Wendte said, "and I took her off the side and said you're going to be the difference. They're going to know they need to stop Micah, they're going to know they need to stop Ava, you're the one who is going to have to step up and hit some shots."
Also critical in the CHBC game was Jones' ability to find her teammates. The 6-1 center dished out seven assists in the sectional title, forced to handle the ball more as A&M focused on getting the rock out of Paruleski's hands.
"Our goal was to use our height and get it to Micah a lot," Wendte said. "I think they knew we were going to try and rely on Ava a lot."
Jones' passing skills were a bright spot for a CHBC team that coughed up 30 total turnovers in the game. Still, finding a way to overcome that high number and pull out the victory sent a message to Wendte.
"Obviously I didn't want to have 30 turnovers," she said, "but I think it proved something to us. We still got the win after that many turnovers, we were there to get the job done."
With the super-sectional matchup tonight against Goreville, Wendte's squad will likely again turn to the dynamic combo of Jones and Paruleski to provide a spark. The duo has made quite a dramatic improvement this season, each making a significant stride in their game for the better of the team.
"Last year Micah was satisfied putting five points on the board and 20 assists," Wendte said. "She had 176 assists last year, but I told her with Ava this year, you've got to put some points on the board."
Jones listened, and has boosted her scoring to an incredible average of 24 points per outing. The Southern Illinois-Edwardsville commit also passed the 2,000 point scoring benchmark. Paruleski, looking to further develop her already sound game, worked tirelessly over the offseason to improve her 3-point shot.
"Ava practiced day and night on her outside shot," Wendte said, "to give her game that extra edge. It would also open up the inside-outside game with Micah."
Paruleski has connected on 67 3-pointers this season, and is shooting a ridiculous 40 percent from beyond the arc. Such has been the expectation, however, for players in Wendte's program. With the new winning culture and desire to hang fresh banners from the gymnasium rafters, the Lady Hornets are willing to go to great lengths to improve their game.
They're also in it for the long-term success of the program. When Wendte asked her seniors if they wanted a parade following the win over Central A&M, she expected her team to say no, not yet satisfied with advancing to the round of eight. Instead, they said yes, and the answer was exactly what the head coach wanted to hear.
"They said 'yes'," Wendte explained, "'because the younger ones need to experience this so they're going to want to do it again.' These girls aren't just looking out for themselves, they're also looking out for the future."