By Larry Thoeming
A perfect run through post season play has led the Okawville Lady Rockets to the IHSA Class 1A State Championship, mirroring the precedent set by last year’s Nashville Hornets. Coach Haylee Bowers, in her first year at the helm as head coach, led the team to a 34-4 final record and the third first place finish at State in eight trips to the final for the school, the last title coming in 2000. Coach Bowers was a player on the 2006 Lady Rocket team which finished in second place in 2006.
The path to glory for the Lady Rockets began on Valentine’s day with a Regional win over Dupo 71-14. In the Regional Final Okawville beat Nokomis 50-10. They then swept the Jacksonville Rout Sectional with a 69-34 win over the host school, then a 63-41 win over Carlyle, ending the Lady Indians fine season at 28-6, setting up a Super Sectional battle with the Havana Ducks at Mt. Sterling, where the Lady Rockets earned their trip to Bloomington with a 58-45 win.
All State guards Alayna Kraus and Briley Rhodes led the team in that match, as Kraus scored 18 points with 9 rebounds and six assists, while running mate Rhodes had 11 markers. Second Team All Stater Megan Rennegarbe muscled up 16 points and 8 rebounds, while Madi Wienstroer added 6, Caroline Tepe 5, and Raelyn Obermeier 2.
It was then on to Redbird Arena where the Okawville team opened the tournament against the highly regarded Galena Lady Pirates, a team with a record of 34-1, with that solo loss to Class 2A qualifier Byron. Galena was tournament tested, having lost to Brimfield in last year’s State Final by a 32-31 margin. Ironically, they could also muster just 31 points again this year, a total no match for the 49 posted by the Lady Rockets. Okawville trailed 10-9 after one period, but from that point it was all downhill for the Pirates. Kraus blistered the nets for 23 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Rhodes scored 10, Obermeier added 8, and Rennegarbe had 5 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Tepe snared 5 errant shots and scored a bucket. Wienstroer also had 5 rebounds and made a free throw. The Stage was set for the goal of all high school teams…the State Championship.
In that final game, Okawville faced fellow down state entry Christopher. The Lady Bearcats came in at 31-3 and had beaten St. Thomas More of Champaign 42-28 in their semi final. The Lady ‘Cats featured one of the premier players in the State in 6’2 Junior Amiah Hargrove, averaging 25 points and nine rebounds per contest. Megan Rennegarbe was assigned the task of guarding the All Stater, and she did just that, shadowing the bigger and stronger Hargrove, limiting her to a hard-earned 19 points. Meanwhile, Kraus meshed 21 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, and the seemingly always open Rennegarbe had 17 with 5 caroms. Obermeier splashed a pair of three-point bombs and finished with 8 points. Wienstroer chipped in with 5 points, and Rhodes, suffering with the onset of illness, had 3 and Jenna Hackstadt had a bucket. All that added up to a 56-35 victory and a place at the table with the other Okawville State Championship teams. Galena rebounded to take third place with a 60-48 win over St. Thomas More.
Okawville’s four losses all came to larger schools. They lost to Class 4A Alton twice (once at the Mascoutah Christmas Tournament and once at the Highland Mid Winter Tourney) to St. Louis Vashon at Mascoutah, and to Quincy Notre Dame at the Breese Central Shootout. Coach Bowers credited Director of Athletics Jon Kraus with putting together the tough schedule which steeled the team and helped prepare them for tournament play. No team in the state had a higher strength-of-schedule rating. Breese Mater Dei won the Class 2A State Title and O’Fallon took the prize in 4A. Okawville beat Mater Dei twice, 54-42 and 60-50, and beat O’Fallon 55-50 at the Highland Tournament.
The team was welcomed home with a parade and a reception at the O-Rena. Briley Rhodes, Ellie Frederking and Megan Rennegarbe are Seniors. All the other players will be back next year, and will welcome the addition of a stellar incoming Freshman class.