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SATURDAY SENTINEL: GGS eighth-graders don't get enough credit

One week ago, we ran a story on the Gardner Grade School eighth-grade girls basketball team and its players making a second straight appearance at state.

A graphic accompanying the story credited the class of GGS eighth-graders with being in school for seven state appearances across three sports during the past four years. In addition to three berths in basketball, GGS — or South Wilmington Grade School, which hosts GGS for a co-op in some sports — has appeared three times in track and field and once in softball, the graphic shared.

It turns out the graphic — and the reporter who researched it (me) — short-changed the class. A couple of emailers alerted me that I'd overlooked girls volleyball, where the seventh-grade Lady Tigers placed fourth in the state in 2012.

I may be convicted of ignorance, but I think I can be found not guilty of total oversight. I did search the IESA's website for a record of Gardner in girls volleyball, as I did the other girls sports in which the school competes. The problem is that I looked only under the 7-1A and 8-1A classifications, which is where the school competes in other sports. At least in 2012, the Lady Tigers competed at the 7-2A level.

So since the current group of GGS (and SWGS) eighth-grade girls got to fifth grade, their schools have advanced to state eight times, and counting. They still have time to qualify once more in both volleyball and track and field.

"This is an amazing group of girls — very coachable, a lot of energy and just love the game as much as I do," basketball coach Rhae Wise told me. "A lot of our success was because I had nine girls that could play good ball, not just a few, and when your that deep with a good bench, it makes it that much better.

"I want to thank the girls for a great season and all the hard work that they put in. We brought a lot of hardware home through the years, and now our trophy case is full so the school needs to get another one."

Another story I did recently dealt with striking individual success rather than team accomplishments. Laura Johnson, a two-time Morris Daily Herald All-Area MVP in girls basketball when she played at Newark High School (back when we considered NHS one of our core high schools), was recently named the NAIA's Division II Women's Basketball Player of the Week. You can read more about Johnson, who now plays at Bethel (Ind.) College, in today's paper.

One nugget I wasn't able to work into the story was Johnson talking about how her game has evolved from last season to this one. Johnson, who was an outstanding shooter dating back to her NHS days, says she is more than that now. The ironic thing is that Johnson's key shooting stats — she's making 41.5 percent of her three-pointers and 86.7 percent of her free throws — are out of this world.

"I worked hard in the offseason, going to the gym all the time and trying to add more to my game than just threes," Johnson said. "That's still a huge part of my game, but I'm trying to do more stuff. My teammates have been getting me the ball, and I think it's the combination of all of that that's allowing me to score the way I have."

I haven't just been writing about achieved success. One story I did — a preview of the Interstate Eight Conference Boys Basketball Tournament, which ran yesterday — discussed how Seneca and Coal City are hoping for their best finishes ever.

For all of their basketball success over the years, the Fighting Irish have never won a boys conference tournament. Coach Russell Witte says the top-seeded Irish will be "highly motivated" to do so starting with their 7 p.m. quarterfinal game today at Reed-Custer.

"It's hard sometimes when you play teams two or three times in a season to keep the motivation high," Witte said. "When you just beat someone pretty good, it can be hard to get the motor going again. Fortunately, with our kids, I really don't see any problems, knock on wood, in that regard. They're not thinking about who we have played already and taking people for granted. They're thinking about making history."

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