NORMAL - It isn't this easy, is it Kateri Stone?
"No," the Montini sophomore said with a laugh.
Fooled us. Montini sure is making this whole state championship thing look like a snap.
The Broncos bolted out to a 21-point halftime lead on Vernon Hills on Saturday - holding the Cougars without a field goal the entire half - at Redbird Arena en route to a 56-38 win to capture their third straight Class 3A championship.
Montini (33-5) joins Teutopolis (1988-90) and Bolingbrook (2009-2011) as the only girls basketball teams to win three straight titles. No team has won four in a row. The three-peat matches that of Montini's football and wrestling teams; the wrestling Broncos have won five straight.
This title, though, comes with a twist. Montini did it with four new starters, graduating three girls now playing Division I basketball off last year's team.
"Throughout the whole year our motivation was to come back. Nobody expected us to win this," said Montini junior Nikia Edom. "Nobody thought we had what it takes, and it feels great."
"I had my doubts," admitted Broncos senior Tianna Brown, the only returning starter off last year's team. "This feels awesome, because I feel more a part of it."
Montini, which rallied from down 9 in the last four minutes to stun supposed Class 3A favorite Hillcrest in Friday's semifinal, needed no such dramatics this time. The Broncos jumped on Vernon Hills from the start and led 22-3 minutes into the second quarter after an Edom jumper. Edom, who scored all 10 of her points in the first half, earlier buried a pair of corner 3s.
"After yesterday's game, we wanted to put them away early," Edom said, "and we came out with a lot of energy. "My shot felt good and they were leaving me open, so I kept shooting."
By halftime it was 31-10, Vernon Hills going 0 of 15 from the field in the first half. It was quite a reversal of fortunes from the day before, when the Cougars - making their first state appearance - got out to a 7-0 lead on their way to stunning No. 1 Springfield.
Vernon Hills' shots finally started to fall after halftime, Cougars sophomore Sydney Smith scoring 13 of her 17 points in the second half. Lauren Webb, another sophomore, added 13 points.
"We came out not as strong as we could have," Smith said, "but at halftime we realized, 'We're in a state championship, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we're the underdogs here.' We just went out and had fun."
Vernon Hills closed to within 38-24, but Montini had the answer with a 14-2 run highlighted by a pair of Stone 3s. Fellow sophomore Jasmine Lumpkin, who hit the eventual game-winning shot on Friday to beat Hillcrest, scored 14 points for Montini, Stone 13 and Brown 10.
Of Montini's last 18 playoff wins, 17 came by double figures - the only exception Friday's comeback win.
"Coach always says you can't underestimate an opponent, and we take that to heart," Stone said. "You can't get cocky and believe that you have any win in the bag."
Montini's defense was in vintage form in the first half Saturday, a microcosm of what it's been all season. Coming into the state tournament Montini was giving up 33.6 points a game - better than last year's team - and was even better in the playoffs, allowing 27.6 points in five contests leading to Redbird.
"We used our length and athleticism, and we did a great job of locating their shooters," Montini coach Jason Nichols said, "and our post players did a great job on their bigs. It's a wonderful win for these kids."
Montini Catholic High School
Vernon Hills High School
Conference: Suburban Christian Blue
- Girls basketball/Fox Valley all-area team
- One last look at Fox Valley girls basketball
- With an injured Stone, Montini just wasn't the same
- Montini nabs 3rd place in Class 3A
- Images: Vernon Hills vs. Montini
Conference: North Suburban Prairie
- Girls basketball: Lake County all-area team
- Webbs timing is, once again, perfect for Vernon Hills
- These unique Lake County teams have it 'all'
- Images: Vernon Hills vs. Quincy Notre Dame
- Vernon Hills denied state title