Montini's kids are growing up fast
Montini has earned this.
Through a season in which a young squad struggled to learn how to play at its best, the goal always was to make it to Normal again.
The Broncos have done just that, winning a spot in the Class 3A girls basketball semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday.
"For us it's kind of been a progression," Montini coach Jason Nichols said Tuesday. "Everybody else talks about trusting the process. I think in this case that's a very usable word and a cliché because we're so young. I mean it's the youngest team I've ever coached."
The Broncos are a sophomore-heavy team, playing six members of the Class of 2022. Nichols believes sophomore year can be the most difficult in high school. It's when kids often get their driver's license, find their social group, gain independence.
"Sophomore year from my experience has always been an up-and-down one," he said. "And I say that would sum up this team right now is that we've had a lot of up-and-down moments.
"Which is scary because if you're an outsider you're going, what is he talking about? You're 32-4. You've played everybody in the state. You've lost to really good teams. And here you are six sophomores, a freshman and one junior and a senior playing in the state semifinals against arguably one of the most talented 3A groups ever, if you ask me."
Simeon (32-3), the Broncos' Friday opponent, and downstate powerhouse Morton (36-0), the defending Class 3A champion, are as good as any team in the state. Morton plays Springfield Lanphier (26-8) in the 1 p.m. semifinal.
Simeon features one of the top juniors in the state, 6-foot-2 Aneesah Morrow. She averages 26.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game. Senior Cashay Dixon averages 14.9 points and has dished 164 assists already this year, and 6-2 junior Khaniah Gardner averages 10.2 points and 7 rebounds.
They are physical, which means 5-11 sophomore Tatiana Thomas will be critical to Montini. Thomas is an AP second-team all-state player.
"The one thing we are not because we are young is physically strong. But (Thomas) looks like a woman amongst girls," Nichols said. "Like she has an Aneesah Morrow-type body. She's not as big as Aneesah, but she is physically strong. And we need that. She has that presence.
"When she's not on the floor you can really notice it at times."
Sophomore point guard Sophie Sullivan has been a streaky shooter at times this season but also will play a key role this weekend.
"She's important to our team. I mean, if you play 32 minutes a game, you're probably pretty important," Nichols said.
Montini always relies heavily on the 3-pointer, even though this year's club hasn't been great from the arc.
"You know maybe this will be a godsend, because I've had great shooting teams and we go down to ISU and we don't even know where the basket is during a game," Nichols said. "So maybe this year this will be a team that's not a great shooting team, we'll get down there and we'll hit a state record, like 15 3s in a game or something. You never know."