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Iron girls basketball season ends in Sectional Finals loss: Season recap

For the second year in a row, the girls basketball team’s postseason run came to an end with a loss in the IHSA Sectional Finals. 

Community fell 60-42 to the O’Fallon Panthers on Feb. 23, extending the Iron’s Sectional Title drought to 18 years. 

O’Fallon, led by Illinois State commit Shannon Dowell, erased Community’s 11-7 first quarter lead. 

Dowell, who was dealing with an ankle injury, scored a game-high 22 points and shot 53% from the field. 

The loss to O’Fallon capped Community’s historic 2023 season in which the Iron went 31-4 and set the program’s single-season win record.

While Community’s run was one for the record books, this season the Panthers were making history of their own.

Their win over Community marked the team’s first-ever Sectional title.

O’Fallon, too, posted their school’s best all-time record, going 34-4 on the way to the Panther’s first appearance in the Final Four round of the IHSA 4A Girls Basketball State Tournament at Illinois State.

And, ultimately, the 4A State Title contest. 

The second-seeded Panthers upset Lisle Benet Academy 62-57 in a double overtime thriller, securing the IHSA State Championship at Redbird Arena on March 3.

While Community fell short of a Sectional title, they had a season to remember. 

The Iron opened the season on an 18 game winning streak before suffering their first loss at the hands of Peoria Notre Dame, falling 46-49 to the Irish on Jan. 11.

Three of the team’s four losses came against some of the best competition in the region: 4A State Champs, the O’Fallon Panthers; third-place finishers in 3A State, Peoria High; and Missouri’s Incarnate Word Red Knights, who won their 100th straight game to capture a sixth consecutive Missouri Class 6 title.

 

18 years. 

That’s how long Community has gone without a Sectional Title, an accomplishment the Iron last achieved in 2005 during Mr. Dave Feeney’s first stint as head coach.

And while Community is graduating five seniors, a trip to the Super Sectionals next year remains an attainable goal for the Iron.

Despite the loss of Chloe Janssen, Aurora Kiamana, Ruth Oliveros-Gallardo, Lauren Hlava and Sophia Feeney, the Iron’s core remains mainly intact heading into the 2024 campaign, as just Feeney and Hlava saw appearances in all of the Iron’s 35 contests.

Feeney was the only senior among the team’s regular starting five, leading the Iron in minutes played with 788. 

The point guard was a cornerstone of the Ironmen’s offense: finishing the season second in assists (63), fourth in scoring (235 points) and third in scoring average (6.7 points per game). 

The 5 ‘5” Feeney played scrappy defense for the Iron, tallying 50 steals, 50 deflections and recording 52 rebounds on the year. 

Feeney, an All-State Honorable Mention, is committed to Illinois Wesleyan to play basketball and volleyball for the Titans next season. 

While Hlava made spot starts for the Iron, most of the 5’11” guard’s 500 minutes came off the bench. 

Hlava’s perimeter shooting made her a scoring threat this season, she was second on the team in three-pointers (41) and 3-point scoring percentage (39.4%).

“Our seniors will be missed,” Coach Feeney said.

While the loss of Hlava’s perimeter shooting and Sophie Feeney’s ball handling will leave a void, Coach Feeney said, the Iron have the potential to be “really good” next year, returning several starters.

Key contributors Olivia Corson, Ali Ince and Giana Rawlings are all set to return.

Corson led the Iron in scoring last season, recording 416 points. The 5 ’11” guard averaged 11.9 points a game, shooting 52.9% from the field. 

Corson’s team-high 89 assists and 141 rebounds helped her secure Second Team All-State honors. 

Ali Ince is coming off a 2023 campaign where she averaged 8 points per game and shot 52.5% from the field. 

Ince was Community’s most-reliable 3-point threat, converting 42.1% of shots from outside the arc. 

The spindly 5 ’10’ junior led the team in rebounds with 145, averaging 4.3 a game. 

Rawlings averaged 7.8 points a game last season, converting 67 3-pointers for the Iron. 

Ince and Rawlings were both 2nd Team All Conference selections in 2023. 

Complimenting the seasoned returners, Coach Feeney hopes, are a group of “younger kids that can step up.”

“We have a bunch of talent,” Coach Feeney said. 

Among the underclassmen Coach Feeney is excited about are Marco Reynolds and Sydney Janssen.

“Every year,” Coach Feeney said, “you hope you have kids for new roles.”

“If we keep things simple and aggressive and let our kids play free, we’ll see that the kids are really talented, we are difficult to guard because we’re unpredictable,” the coach said.

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About the Contributor
Jeffery Woodard, Senior Staff Reporter
Jeffery Woodard is a senior at Normal Community High School and is involved in track & field. This is his third year working with the Inkspot, and he is a senior staff reporter. On the weekends, I enjoy hanging out with friends and going to the gym. In my free time, I enjoy watching movies of all sorts. My favorite film is "Black Panther."
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