Trailblazing success: Community’s girls basketball program marks milestones over three-year run

Over the past three seasons, the Irons varsity team compiled an 89-15 overall record, making three trips to the Sectional Title game. 
Image Courtesy: Charles Green
Over the past three seasons, the Iron’s varsity team compiled an 89-15 overall record, making three trips to the Sectional Title game. Image Courtesy: Charles Green

Down by double digits against the Alton Redbirds in the opening quarter of Feb. 22’s Sectional Championship contest, Community’s girls basketball team found themselves in uncharted territory. 

For the senior-heavy roster, trailing an opponent was a rare occurrence as the 31-3 Iron entered the night boasting a +20.5 point differential.

As the clock ticked down on the veteran’s third–and final–shot at a Sectional Title, the team blazed back, cutting the Redbird’s lead to six at the half.   

In the third quarter, the Iron slashed the lead to one. 

And while the Iron ultimately couldn’t find their way around the Redbirds, falling to Alton 66-56, head coach Mr. Dave Feeney said the game showcased the spirit of the team’s eight seniors.

“It’s really easy when you’re down” in what could’ve been the seniors’ final game, Feeney said, “to be like, ‘okay, we’re done.’”

But the Iron, a group headlined by Olivia Corson, Giana Rawlings and Ali Ince, were “fiercely competitive,” the coach said, forging forward, battling back. 

That grit and competitive spirit served the team well the last three seasons as the roster saw trailblazing success and marked significant milestones

Over the last three seasons, the Iron racked up an 89-15 overall record, going 24-5 in Big 12 Conference play.

With those 89 victories came successes the program has not set sight on in nearly two decades—three straight Regional Championships, an Intercity Title three-peat and back-to-back State Farm Holiday Classic trophies.

However, despite these achievements, one accolade remained elusive: a Big 12 title.

Community suffered five of their 15 losses at the hands of conference foes the Peoria Notre Dame Irish and Peoria High Lions as Peoria’s programs embarked on historic journeys of their own.

In the last three seasons, the Irish went a combined 83-10, while the Lions boasted a 75-12 record. 

This year, the Peoria Notre Dame Irish, led by Conference Player of the Year Mya Wardle, went 34-4 en route to their first-ever State Championship in program history.

The two previous seasons, Peoria High’s Aaliyah Guyton, a four-star recruit committed to the University of Iowa, earned the title of Big 12 Player of the Year. Guyton, last season, helped lead the Lions to third place in Class 3A, a program best.

Other Iron losses were historic.

Tipping off in a Sectional Title game was a landmark moment for the Iron as no Community girls team had made a Sectional since the IHSA adopted the four-class system in the 2007-08 season.

The Iron’s 2022 Sectional Championship appearance snapped a 17-year drought, with the Iron last playing for a Sectional title in the ’04-05 season. While the team fell 57-45 to Edwardsville, that game signified the rise of Community girls basketball.

While just one trip to the Sectional Finals would have been notable, Community made three consecutive appearances.

To get there, the Iron won back-to-back-to-back Regional Titles for the third time in program history, a feat last accomplished during the team’s 2002-05 run. In the 16 seasons between, Community earned just two Regional titles.

In 2023, after a program-record 31-win season, the Iron found their way back to the Sectional Final, losing 60-42 to eventual 4A State Champions, the O’Fallon Panthers.

This season, the Iron matched up against the top team in their Sectional, the Associated Press’s second-ranked Alton Redbirds, and the First-Team All-State duo of 6-foot-1 Jarius Powers and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville bound Kiyoko Proctor.

Despite being the underdogs heading into this season’s Sectional, Feeney said the loss was “crushing.”

After three history-making runs and three shots at a Sectional Championship, Feeney felt clinching a Sectional Title “was something [the team] deserved.”

And were more than capable of with four players named First-Team Big 12 All-Conference Selections: the maximum number possible.

Four selections are “almost unheard of,” Feeney said. It speaks to the depth of talent on Iron’s roster, as 2A State Champ Peoria Notre Dame, who went undefeated 10-0 in Conference play, had three first-teamers.

The honor was the third consecutive for McKendree commit Olivia Corson, while her teammates Ali Ince, Giana Rawlings and Rayna Powers made their First Team debut. 

Corson’s play this season, including a dominant 32-point performance against Peoria Richwoods, earned her Second-Team All-State Honors from Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and an Honorable Mention from the Illinois Media, a state-wide panel of newspaper writers and editors, in their Class 4A All-State girls’ basketball team voting.

Earlier this season, Corson hit her 1000th career point, accomplished in just three varsity seasons. Corson tallied 590 points in her senior campaign, just 16 shy of program all-time leading scorer Jenny Schmidt’s single-season record.

Ince joins Corson in receiving IBCA honors and earning a spot on the organization’s Special Mention Team.  

Rawlings made history by hitting 220 career threes—a best among both the boys and girls basketball programs. 

Rawlings’ 85-three sophomore season etched her name in the Iron girls record books as a program best. The senior guard and Carthage College commit ended her career with 229 makes behind the arc.

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Coming into the season, Feeney told his players not to feel pressure to match last season’s record-setting 31 wins given this year’s stacked schedule. 

The schedule featured two future State Champions, Lincoln and Notre Dame, whom they would take on back-to-back in three days. 

Despite losing both games by over 20 points, Feeney insists that this senior class has never had a “bad loss.”

The scoreboard, the win and loss column, the stat sheet aren’t things Feeney puts too much emphasis on. 

That became clear when he scheduled the team to face St. Louis’s Incarnate Word Academy in consecutive seasons, a team that had won more than 85 straight games and five successive Missouri State Championship Titles when the Iron faced them in January of 2023.

The secret to coaching high school basketball, Feeney said, is “it’s not about basketball.”

For Feeney, what counts is character.

Final scores often dominate the narrative around sports, overshadowing the essence of the game itself: the true measure of success is displayed through traits like resilience and perseverance, determination and discipline, sportsmanship and teamwork, commitment and integrity…

Look at the program’s “37 quality human beings,” Feeney said, and you see the true successes of Iron basketball.

That’s not the case for every team, the coach said. Some players, despite on-court success and accolades, can “kind of [be] jerks.”

Feeney said the attitude and character of the Ironmen roster—37 good people—are what make the Community “easy to root for,” not just their talent.

Be good to people, Feeney said, and “people want good things for you.”

With eight seniors graduating, Community fans will root for quite a different roster next season.

Just four juniors saw consistent playing time in the Iron’s 35 games this year: Rayna Powers, Marco Reynolds, A’Meah Lester and Kenna Malinowski.

Sydney Janssen, who started for the Iron before suffering a season-ending ACL tear, is also expected to return.

“Sydney could really, really help us,” Feeney said, after she gets healthy.

That new-look roster–without Allie Rustemeyer, Rawlings, Ince, or Corson; without Meadow Bronke, Kate Oyler, Sophie Barlow, and Brynley Dowd–might have opponents thinking they’re facing a less competitive Community team.

“A lot of people will expect us to take a significant drop,” Feeney said.

That gives the Iron the opportunity to surprise their opponents next season.

“I think that’s exciting,” he said.

Next season, Feeney said the team won’t take the court with the pressure of repeating the program’s recent successes; instead, he hopes they play with an “underdog chip on their shoulders.”

That attitude, he thinks, can pay dividends.

The Sectional Title is a wall “we’ve been knocking on,” Feeney said, “for three straight years and trying to break through,” Feeney said.

“Wouldn’t it be unbelievable,” the coach said, if next season, “they could find a way to make it back to another Sectional Championship?”

While next year’s roster features a lot of “unknowns,” Feeney said, he expects the team to “continue to build [on the] culture” they’ve witnessed the past three years, adding a new chapter to the Ironmen legacy as they “write [their] own story.”

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