Girls Basketball: Montini routs Vernon Hills for third straight titleMontini's Maggie O'Brien (3) celebrates with the team after winning the IHSA Class 3A Championship game on Saturday, March 3, 2012 in Normal. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2012 11:23PM
NORMAL, Ill. – Teutopolis. Bolingbrook. And now, Montini.
The girls basketball powerhouse from the western suburbs joined some elite company in the IHSA Class 3A championship game Saturday at Redbird Arena.
By defeating Vernon Hills 56-38, Montini became just the third school in history to win three consecutive state titles.
And like Teutopolis (1988-90) and Bolingbrook (Class 4A, 2009-11) before it, Montini’s third straight title was never in doubt.
The Broncos held Vernon Hills scoreless from the field in the first half, building a 22-3 lead three minutes into the second quarter. Kateri Stone’s jumper at the buzzer — her third field goal of the first half — gave the Broncos a 31-10 lead at the half.
“It was nice to make a couple of shots early, especially since I started 0 for 12 yesterday,” said Stone, one of four Broncos in double figures with 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting from the field.
Montini then withstood the Cougars’ 14-7 run to open the second half, and extended the lead to as many as 26 points early in the fourth quarter. Stone’s three-pointer with 1:40 left in the third quarter put the brakes on Vernon Hills’ run and gave Montini an insurmountable 41-24 advantage.
Montini coach Jason Nichols was flabbergasted by his team’s performance this weekend, and to a large extent, this season.
“I’m kind of speechless about it,” Nichols said. “To sit here and actually think we’re a state champ…wow, and that’s a credit to these girls. Last night’s win was so big, and then coming back and just come out with that start and that energy, it was huge.
“This one’s pretty special because nobody really thought we’d be back here, and at times I was one of them. I would never tell them that, but as a coaching staff a couple times we said. ‘Let’s get down there, see what happens, get some experience and blah, blah, blah.’ ’’
Stone, on the other hand, was one of those who never doubted Montini would hoist its third straight championship trophy.
“We worked so hard as a team and we’ve grown over the whole season,” she said. “We did have some shaky moments this season, but I think we grew together from the losses and from the struggles. We grew together so by now we could help each other and come out with a big win.”
Sophomore Jasmine Lumpkin led Montini with 14 points Saturday. Senior Tianna Brown had 13 points and junior Nikia Edom added 10 points and four assists.
“This means a lot because a lot of people didn’t think we’d make it down here or win,” Brown said. “So to come down here and win, it’s big. It’s a great feeling.”
Vernon Hills coach Paul Brettner was feeling better after his team came out in the second half and played like the team that defeated top-ranked Springfield in Friday’s semifinal.
“I wasn’t anticipating shooting 0-for-15 in the first half,” he said. “Their defense is good, but we missed some shots we typically hit, and if that was the case I would think we’d be more confident and play a little better in the first half. Then our work in the second half might not have been for naught.”
Sophomore Sydney Smith led Vernon Hills with 17 points, including two long three-pointers to ignite the early second-half rally. Sophomore Lauren Webb added 13 points, all from the free-throw line on 14 attempts, and 6-2 junior Meri Bennett-Swanson added five points and three rebounds.
With only three starters and four players overall from both sides graduating this spring, nobody would be surprised to see the same two teams in Normal in 2013.
“Some of our bigger scorers were young,” Brettner said. “It will be difficult to replace [seniors] Abby [Springer] and Julie [Pecht]. They brought a lot of intangibles and things on the court. But when this is all said and done, I’ll start looking forward to next year.”