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Girls youth basketball: Troy 7th-graders score a first with state title

The IESA state-champion Troy seventh-grade girls basketball team beat East St. Louis Lincoln, 43-39, to win the state title game and complete an unbeaten season.
The IESA state-champion Troy seventh-grade girls basketball team beat East St. Louis Lincoln, 43-39, to win the state title game and complete an unbeaten season.

The Troy Middle School seventh-grade girls basketball team has done its part, now it’s the eighth-graders’ turn.

Coach Mark Peter’s seventh-grade team finished 28-0 and wrapped up the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 4A state title Thursday with a 43-39 victory over East St. Louis Lincoln. That marked the first time that a Troy team in an elimination tournament had reached an IESA championship game. The dream season included championships in the Marian Catholic Tournament and the DuPage Valley Conference Tournament.

The eighth-graders, who are 21-6, won their quarterfinal and semifinal games Saturday to advance to Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. title game in Normal against Arlington Heights South.

The connection, though, goes beyond both teams having “Troy” on their jerseys. Peter’s assistant is Serena Cruz, who is the eighth-grade head coach, with Peter assisting. Three of the top players on the eighth-grade team are seventh-graders Lisa Thompson, Jasmine Brown and Akeisha Watson. All played vital roles in the seventh-grade championship run.

“The IESA allows an individual to play eight quarters a night, and it is not unusual for seventh-graders to play on eighth-grade teams,” Peter said, “although, that’s more typical of smaller schools rather than a school our size.

“We had 10 girls on the seventh-grade roster, and one thing I was proud of is that all 10 played in 27 of our 28 games.”

The Trojans made a habit of beating opponents soundly along the way. The championship game was close, however, as Troy beat East St. Louis Lincoln, 43-39. Peter said the only disappointing part is he was able to use only six girls in that game, which was played in Bolingbrook.

“The way East St. Louis got up and down the floor, how athletic they were, circumstances dictated how we had to approach that game,” Peter said.

He noted that Troy trailed, 10-2, off the get-go and still was down, 12-6, after one quarter. However, the Trojans outscored East St. Louis, 18-5, in the second quarter – “probably our best second quarter of the year,” Peter said – to lead, 24-17, at half.

“We went down 10-2 in a minute and a half,” Peter said. “We’re a man-to-man team, and the game was two minutes old when we realized our man-to-man might not work. We’re also a pressing team and they got through our press so effortlessly. They’re so athletic.”

East St. Louis battled back in the second half, getting within three points after three quarters before tying it, 37-37, in the fourth quarter. But Troy was not about to relinquish its potential state championship and undefeated season.

“We knew from what these girls did as fifth- and sixth-graders that we would be good this season,” Peter said. “Expectations were high. The girls have such a high basketball IQ.

“However, what really made them the team they are is they are all close, and you never saw any cockiness from them. They’re good kids, and what you saw from them is what you got.”

Peter coached in the girls basketball program at Troy for six years, moved over to the boys’ program when Adam DeGroot became the boys sophomore coach at Joliet Catholic, took a year off to watch his son, Ryan, play at St. Francis and then returned to coach in the Troy girls’ program last year.

He said he generally used a four-guard lineup this fall, with Thompson, Brown, Watson, Janiyah Jones and Andie Burch the starters and Kayleen Coggins, Grace Morrow, Jayleen Sanchez, Melle Slager and Ashlei Thomas contributing off the bench.

“Lisa Thompson is our point guard and our leading scorer,” Peter said. “She probably is the best girls basketball player I have seen. Janiyah Jones is a shooter and our best defensive player. Andie Burch played a 2 or 3 and did a little of everything. Jasmine Brown could play anywhere, including a 5. She could be inside or outside. Akeisha Watson was our one true big.”

These seventh-grade girls forever will be in the Troy record book as the school’s first to win an IESA state title. Peter, though, gives credit where it is due.

“Noel Blasing had some ridiculous boys teams back in the day, like when he had Jeremy Fears and those guys,” he said. “But they were not part of the IESA then.”

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