COAL CITY – Saying the Coal City girls basketball team primarily played small schools in regular-season competition is inaccurate. Of its 23 different varsity opponents, 13 are Class 3A or 4A teams.
It would also be wrong to say that the Coalers have not shown they can beat successful 3A teams. Five of their victims (Peotone, Plano, St. Francis, Wheaton Academy and St. Edward) are No. 2 seeds at Class 3A regionals, as are the Coalers themselves.
What can be argued is that the Coalers have not proven themselves against state-caliber competition, and that they will see state-caliber competition at the Class 3A Morris Regional. None of the Coalers’ to-date opponents are state-ranked by the Associated Press. The top team at Morris, Joliet Catholic Academy, is ranked second in 3A, though after the most recent poll was released, JCA lost 69-46 on Wednesday to Marian Catholic.
“We can’t help our schedule,” Coal City coach Brad Schmitt said. “I believe our [Interstate Eight] conference prepares us for anybody that we’re going to play. I truly believe that. ... People are always going to have a comment about this or about that. All we are truly worried about is ourselves.”
Until Monday, the Coalers had navigated their schedule flawlessly, winning their first 25 games. Pontiac, a team that came in 15-7 and is the No. 3 seed at the Class 3A Prairie Central Regional, dealt them a 57-40 defeat.
The loss not only ended Coal City’s perfect season, it also spoiled senior night for Emily Halliday, Brittany Jezik and Britta Spelde. They are the only three seniors on the team. All are starters and among the Coalers’ statistical leaders; Halliday is their leading scorer at 13.6 points a game, Spelde leads them in rebounds with 161 and is second in scoring average at 11.3, and Jezik’s 101 assists and 80 steals are both team highs.
Getting over the loss to Pontiac, Jezik said, did not take long.
“At the end of the game, when we were all in the locker room, Schmitt just gave us a good talk, and I felt like, while he was talking, we all just kind of realized at the beginning of this season, we weren’t expecting to go 25-0,” she said. “I think we did appreciate it, and we do now. We were all lucky to do that.”
There are plenty of silver linings as the Coalers head into the regional. They bounced back from the loss to defeat Herscher 40-25 on Thursday and complete a perfect season in the I-8, their first since 2009. They are still undefeated with Nicole Borgetti, their third-leading scorer, who was out of town Monday but is back now.
And, Spelde feels, the Coalers showed at the Lisle Holiday Cage Classic, the ability to play with the kind of teams they will face in Morris. There, they defeated Chicago Christian, St. Francis, Wheaton Academy and St. Edward. All are private, Class 3A teams, just like Providence and JCA.
“We haven’t seen a lot of teams like that, but in the Lisle tournament, there have been teams exactly like that, and we’ve matched up perfectly,” Spelde said.
“I’m kind of really excited to play Providence, just because the game has been canceled twice, so finally we get to play ‘em and see what they’re like. If we beat them, I think all of us on the team are really excited to play – if JCA wins – JCA, just because they only beat us by [12 points, at the 2013 Coal City Regional]. I think this year we can give them a run for their money, if we do get there.”
The Coalers do not know what will happen next week, or how they will match up in a regional they will not be widely picked to win. What they do know, Halliday said, is that they like their chances just as much as they did before the loss to Pontiac.
“I definitely still have that confidence. I mean, we kind of know what we’re gonna have to be put up against,” Halliday said. “We know that Providence is basically like [Pontiac] – they’re fast, they’re big, they’re basically almost the same team. So I feel like we know that if we play our best game, we can definitely hang with them.”