Girls Basketball: Young finishes perfect season with Class 4A crownWhitney Young's Janee Thompson (11) hits a layup in the IHSA Class 4A Championship game on Saturday, March 3, 2012 in Normal. | Jon Durr~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2012 11:20PM
NORMAL, Ill. — Linnae Harper isn’t the most outspoken player on the Young basketball team. The 5-foot-7 junior lets her actions do the talking.
Harper spoke volumes Saturday.
Harper had 14 points and 14 rebounds, Janee Thompson had 12 points and five assists and sophomore Taylor Brame added 10 points to lead Young to a 63-51 victory over Edwardsville in the IHSA Class 4A state championship game at Redbird Arena.
Young became the first big school team to complete an unbeaten season since Peoria Richwoods went 38-0 in 2005, and Harper was a big part of it. She outrebounded Edwardsville by herself 11-10 in the first half as the Dolphins raced to a 34-12 lead.
“I think size-wise she’s probably the best rebounder in the country,” Young coach Corry Irvin said. “She has a knack for the ball that you can’t teach. Her rebounding has always been huge.”
Harper had to contend with Edwardsville’s 6-4 Leigh Kesper and 6-2 Emmonnie Henderson, but beat the Tigers’ towering duo to the ball time after time.
“No. 32 (Henderson) is very big, so we just tried to work around it and try to find advantage on defense,” Harper said. “It’s just experience and working hard.
‘‘This means a lot, I’ve been at Whitney Young three years and to get a state championship means a lot. I’m really happy and blessed to have the team I did.’’
Harper’s work on the boards helped Young dart out of the gate. The Dolphins took a 16-6 lead after eight minutes thanks to a three-pointer from the corner by Alexis Lloyd, baskets by 6-foot-6 sophomore Khaalia Hillsman, freshman Tanita Allen and Thompson and three free throws by Brame.
The Dolphins continued their relentless push in the second quarter. Lloyd’s jumper in the lane made it 28-10 with 3:06 remaining, and her rebound of Harper’s miss extended the lead to 32-12. Sydney Snower put the final touches on the first half with a short fade in the lane.
About the only thing Edwardsville fans had to cheer about in the first half was a vicious pick set by Henderson on Lloyd midway through the second quarter. But Henderson picked up her third foul moments later and finished the first half with just two points and four rebounds.
Young led by 23 points at 50-27 on a three-pointer by Jasmine Ogunjimi with 6:56 remaining in the fourth quarter before Edwardsville closed on a 24-13 run. But it was too little too late.
“We had a letdown,” Irvin said. “We lost focus for a little bit in the second half. It’s tough to keep them focused when you have a lead like that.”
If Young began celebrating too early, it was a fault easily forgiven.
“I think it’s great,” Irvin said. “I’m sure it’s going to go down in history. I think this is probably one of the best teams in Illinois history. It’s good for the program. It’s good for the school. I’m really proud of the girls and everything they’ve done this year.”
Lloyd and Allen each finished with nine points for Young. Ashia Jones led Edwardsville (34-2) with 18 points and Henderson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“I’m proud that we didn’t quit,” Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. “It would have been awfully easy to. What they did to us in the first half is what we’ve done to everybody all year. We knew it was going to be tough coming in. They’re awfully talented, well-coached and a great program.”