Girls basketball: Undefeated Iron face unbeaten Washington

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Photo Courtesy of: Jeff Christopherson

Senior Sophia advances the ball up court in the season opener win over U-High. Feeney averages 7.1 points per game, and leads the Iron in assists (18), steals (20) and deflections (20).

Community’s girls basketball team’s undefeated season is on the line as they face an unbeaten Washington Panthers squad at home Thursday, Dec. 15.

When Community tip-offs against Washington (9-0) in non-conference play, they look to extend a 14-game regular season winning streak that dates back to last season.

Head Coach Dave Feeney and the Iron’s last loss came 320 days ago when Community fell 70-63 on the road to Joliet West in late January last season.

Feeney hopes the 2022-23 campaign’s early success–a second straight Intercity title on the way to a 9-0 start–gives the team confidence heading into the schedule’s tougher matchups.

“Hopefully,” Feeney said, “they’re learning to believe in each other and to believe in what we’re doing.”

Feeney’s belief in the program created high expectations heading into the season’s opening month.

“We expected a fast start,” Feeney said–the Iron are a roster of experienced players, returning all but three athletes from last year’s roster.

The veteran roster outscored opponents 540-269, winning all but one of their matchups by 22 or more points.

The Iron’s advantage is their depth, Feeney said.

“We have a lot of different weapons, a lot of kids that can score.”

The Iron’s opponents can’t key on one player, Feeney said. They have to account for all five Iron on the floor.

Community’s minutes-leaders, Olivia Corson, Ali Ince, Gianna Rawlings, Sophie Feeney and Lauren Hlava, are capable of double-digit offensive performances.

Corson leads the Ironmen in scoring, averaging 12.8 ppg and shooting 60.7% from the field. The junior guard has scored 115 points on the season.

Lauren Hlava is second on the stat sheet with 80 points, shooting 48.7% behind the arch–sinking 19 threes for Community.

Hlava, Feeney said, “has been shooting the ball fantastically.”

That Iron offense will face their first real challenge with the matchup against a ranked 3A Washington team.

Community is 3-4 all-time against the Panthers, winning their last matchup by six on Dec. 16 last year, outscoring the Panthers 51-45.

To tie the series, Community looks to stop 6’0” Bradley University commit Claire McDougall.

McDougall, the coach said, is “phenomenal.”

“She’s big and strong,” Feeney said, “she kind of distorts the game a little bit because she can dominate and do a lot of things — she’s a tremendous passer. She gets a lot of her teammates involved.”

“When we play Washington, one of the challenges is it’s a lot like seeing ourselves. They have a lot of different kids that do a lot of things well.”

But, Feeney said, McDougall is “kind of the table setter,” who “defensively, presents a great challenge.”

Feeney said that a key for the Iron will be rebounding, one of the team’s weaknesses last season.

Hlava leads the Iron in rebounds with 30, with 18 of the 5’11” senior’s boards coming on defense.

“We’ve done a great job of rebounding so far, but I think this is the first really good rebounding team that we’ve seen,” Feeney said.

The contest, the coach said, is “a great test” for the Iron.”

“We just want to use this as a measuring stick to see what things we have to improve upon.”

“We don’t play [Washington] other than maybe in the State Farm Classic. We don’t play them in the postseason. So really, the idea here is just ‘let’s use this to get better.’”

The heart of Community’s schedule, Feeney said, will feature some of their toughest competition– the State Farm Holiday Classic tournament, January rematches against Joliet West, Missouri’s Incarnate Word Academy and conference foe Peoria High–teams that accounted for three of Community’s seven losses last season.

While the game versus Washington is a “measuring stick,” that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t want to win–Feeney hopes the team enters the Washington game with a “chip on their shoulder” after receiving a lower seed than the Panthers in the State Farm Holiday Classic.

A poll of the 43rd annual tournament’s participating head coaches, committee members and state-wide media seeded the Panthers 4th in the tournament and Community 8th.

“‘This is a team that people think is better than you,” Feeney has been reminding the Iron–“our kids should want to prove that wrong.”