MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- The two seniors on the Mount Carmel girls’ basketball team will forever be credited with returning the Lady Aces to the north side of the .500 mark for the first time since Tyra Buss played at the Hilltop.
Kylie Terrel and McKenna Zimmerman will also get credit for setting the table for the surge that is surely ahead. Because just as much as the awards banquet held last week was about them, it was also about the future, which looks extremely bright, by the way.
Terrel, who signed earlier in the week to play softball next year at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Illinois, was named the Most Valuable Player of the 16-15 basketball season just completed. Zimmerman claimed the Sharpshooter award.
Veteran coach Tim Willis said the leadership shown by his two seniors helped guide the team through their darkest time, losing both Kylie Applebey and Mollie Dardeen to injuries as December beckoned after a 6-1 start to the season. Dardeen returned later, but Applebey was done for the season.
“What I most liked about our team was they didn’t hang their heads and start making excuses,” said Willis, with 244 wins under his belt in 14 seasons. “They just came back to practice and worked that much harder to get us back on track.”
The Lady Aces had to completely retool the team, and do it on the fly. After falling to the .500 mark at 14-14 after the regular season, they won two straight post-season games to clinch a winning season, reaching the IHSA Class 2A regional tournament championship in the process. They lost to Newton in the finals, 53-48.
“By the end of the season, we were playing pretty good basketball again,” Willis said. “As a coach, that makes you proud that you have a bunch of kids that continues to dig and get better.”
Terrel averaged 13.8 points per game, almost identical to the 13.7 figure thrown up by junior Baylie Ray, who was named the Offensive Player award winner.
Haley Maguire, a junior who usually drew the toughest defensive assignment, carried that through with the Defensive Player award. Dardeen, only a sophomore, was chosen Most Improved, while junior Kami Kline was named the winner of the Hustle Award. Freshman Kassidy Drone was chosen as Rookie of the Year, while another freshman.
Bea Morgan has done so much to assist the program over the years, Willis named the Assist Award after her a few years ago.. This year’s award recipient was junior Lauryn Wright, whose season assist total was one of the top 10 all-time in school history, according to Willis.
There were two junior varsity awards presented as well. Sophomore Sela Lashbrook was named the MVP, and Alli Kell won the Rebound award.
Willis lauded the girls for the defensive team they became, and he encouraged them to work hard off-season to condition themselves so that they can become better at it next year.
“We have to be the best conditioned team on the floor every night,” Willis said. “Not only do we need to know that, but our opponents need to know that. We need to be ready to run from the time we get off the bus until the game is over.”
Willis said the look ahead is a part of every year-end athletic banquet. After honoring the current team, he likes to issue a challenge to the following members.
“We think we’re going to be one of the better teams in southern Illinois next year,” he said. “We think that based on players coming back from other teams, that if we stay healthy we’ve got a shot at any of them. But we have to work on our offensive skills over the summer, and have to be a better-conditioned team.”