Hononegah girls win 16th NIC-10 basketball title
MACHESNEY PARK — A season that seemed like forever to get going was finished in the relative blink of an eye Friday night, but Hononegah’s Haley Warren gave the experience an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“It was intense. We’d practice, play a game, practice play a game,” Warren said of the six-week season that tipped off for Hononegah on Feb. 9. “Then having two divisions with the winners playing each other for the championship. It was really fun.”
It was especially fun for Hononegah, which won its 16th NIC-9/NIC-10 girls basketball championship with an efficient 57-36 dismantling of Harlem. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, NIC-10 athletic directors split the conference into two divisions with the winners of each playing for the title.
Although the format was unique, the eventual outcome was not. Hononegah has won eight of the last 11 conference titles. Friday night’s formula was familiar as well. The Indians used a stifling press and half-court trap to keep Harlem from using its size advantage underneath. Hononegah then worked the ball around to the hottest shooter.
Friday, the hottest shooter was sophomore Emma Clark, who had 10 of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter as Hononegah took an 18-11 lead it would never surrender.
In 14 games, Hononegah gave up more than 40 points just three times. Even in its lone loss to Guilford, the Vikings only managed 38.
“We’re really fast and everyone puts in a lot of effort,” Warren said of Hononegah’s swarming defense. “After a while, you can see they really don’t know what to do with the ball.”
To be fair, Harlem limped into Friday night having lost three of its last four because it was missing its starting point guard in Brooklyn Brien and its normal small forward, Nikki Harrison, played at about 50 percent with a knee injury.
“Hononegah’s press is very hard to prepare for,” Harlem coach Beth Meyer said. “They execute it very well and it kept us from getting into our offense. We had to have girls in different positions and that made it tougher.”
Still, it was an encouraging year for the Huskies. Harlem has not won the NIC-10 since 1998-1999 when future University of Illinois star Aminata Yanni was wreaking havoc. The Huskies will lose Alisyn Macgregor, who had nine points, to graduation, but Brien, Harrison and 6-1 shooting guard Maya Davidson, who had 12 points and eight rebounds Friday, will return.
“I just hope it becomes a consistent thought in their head that we belong in title games and we can dream about championships and make that the goal every year,” Meyer said.
They’ll likely have to get through Hononegah again in the future. Warren was the second-leading scorer on the night and she’s a junior. In fact, not a single Hononegah point Friday came from a senior.
Hononegah coach Jason Brunke, who was in his first year as Indians coach after replacing retired Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Randy Weibel, said the only disappointing thing Friday was the fact that the Indians won’t be able to test themselves in a state tournament.
“It’s kind of strange because usually you only win your last game if you’re in the state finals,” Brunke said. “We told the girls to enjoy the fact we were playing for a championship. You don’t always get to do that. We’re just grateful for this moment.”