LANARK, Ill. — No one forced 33 senior athletes onto the Eastland High court Tuesday night. Even though the Illinois high school basketball season ended almost three months ago, seniors from Fulton, Fulton Unity Christian, West Carroll and Morrison (among other northwest Illinois schools) still showed they had the drive to put it all on the court one last time.
Of course, there was still plenty of room for laughing and enjoyment during the 16th Annual Jim Shaw All-Star Game. For instance, when Scales Mound’s Derian Phillips had a ferocious throwdown near the end of the boys contest, even his opponents were seen grinning with awe.
“I’d have to say that was my favorite moment,” Mustangs point guard Alex Volckmann said.
“I agree, that was pretty sick,” echoed Nick Fish, Fulton big man, who teamed up with Volckmann on the South squad in the senior showcase.
Both the boys and girls games saw plenty of body banging and finesse. Phillips and Forreston sharp-shooter Anna Drake took home MVP honors for their respective games. Both were on the winning side: Phillips with 17 points in a 70-56 South win for the boys; Drake with 14 points for a North squad 48-46 victory.
Morgan Wierema (Fulton), Erin Wessels (Fulton Unity) and Ieshia Larson represented local schools in the girls game, with the North team. Volckmann and Fish joined Fulton Unity’s Collin Willoughby for the South, while West Carroll’s Tommy Losch and Nick Hughes represented the Thunder once more for the North.
Joining the action was a no-brainer for some of the boys, most of whom grew up watching their predecessors play.
“I’ve always watched this since I was young. It was definitely a relief to get an invitation to play,” Volckmann said.
“There was no way I was going to pass this up,” Fish said. “It looked fun, and it was fun.”
He will study criminal justice next year at Western Illinois University, while Volckmann will attend St. Ambrose University and major in physical therapy. For both, though, this was the last time they’d play a sanctioned basketball game.
“You definitely want to put it all out there,” Volckmann said.
The girls took the court first, with honorary official Dennis Steinhoff tossing the opening tip-off. A back-and-forth game broke open when the South squad got a slew of points from Drake, Stockton’s Kristin Wright from the wing and Pearl City’s Ashley Cropper from the post. The South built a 25-12 lead midway through the second quarter and took a 31-18 lead to halftime.
The North bounced back in the opening minutes of the third quarter, with Lena-Winslow’s Briana Bautsch scoring five points in less than a minute. Drake countered with a 3-pointer to build a 36-23 lead.
It looked as if the North was done for good going into the fourth quarter, trailing by 15 points, 46-31. Larson helped her team chip away with familiar post moves and jumpers from the elbow. She finished with 13 points and said she was satisfied with the result.
Dishes from Wessels and Larson allowed outside scorers Kourtney Larson (East Dubuque) and Susanna Thompson (Warren) open looks for swishes. The North squad went on a 15-2 run in the closing minutes and had a chance to tie with the South inbounding, leading 48-46 with .4 on the clock.
The game ended on the inbound, but Wessels and Wierema both said they were glad they took in the experience.
“We all wanted to have fun, but we all wanted to win at the same time,” Wierema said.
“It was fun that it got so close at the end,” Wessels said. “I don’t know any of these girls since I play in a different conference. “They’re all really nice, really welcoming.”
Wierema gave fans a familiar shot-blocking expose, particularly in one defensive stand late in the fourth quarter in which she swatted three shots in a row.
“We all wanted to show what we have,” Ieshia Larson said. “It’s still kind of competitive, and for me it was about staying in shape.”
Larson added it was a good way to stay sharp while preparing to play college sports. She will attend Lincoln Trail College next year, studying medicine and playing softball. Wierema will take her talents to Monmouth College where she will major in accounting and continue her basketball career. Wessels plans to run track at Trinity Christian College while obtaining a business communications degree.
In the boys game, the North squad jumped to a 7-0 lead behind a 3 from Phillips and baseline scores from Fish and East Dubuque’s Tyler Kraft. The South narrowed the gap, but the North edged away again thanks to tough low presences from Phillips and ferocious board crashing from Galena’s Michael Schultz.
Losch and Hughes manned the point and found several open baseline looks. Each finished with five points and contributed to several dynamite feeds to teammates for easy baskets. The North took a 35-28 lead to the half, then cracked open the third quarter with an eight-point spurt.
Volckmann, Justin Hughes (Forreston), Fish, and Eastland’s Austin Hansen and Tyrus Hartman contributed to a 10-point swing for the South. Hansen and Volckmann continued to knock down outside shots while Hartman found his way to the post for buckets.
A once 15-point deficit dwindled to a 57-51 North squad lead. Then the North re-awoke, with Schultz and Phillips finishing hard post putbacks, including the game-ending dunk off a feed from River Ridge’s Cody Landwer. The final score was 70-56.
“We’ve been playing these guys all our lives. It was cool getting together and seeing how well we could play instead of against each other,” Volckmann said, his senior season now “officially” over.