By Phil Brozynski
NORMAL, Ill. Linnae Harper isnt the most outspoken player on the Young basketball team. The 5-foot-7 junior lets her actions do the talking.Harper spoke volumes Saturday.Harper had 14 points and 14 rebounds, Janee Thompson had 12 points and five assists and sophomore Taylor Brame added 10 points to lead Young to a 63-51 victory over Edwardsville in the IHSA Class 4A state championship game at Redbird Arena.Young became the first big school team to complete an unbeaten season since Peoria Richwoods went 38-0 in 2005, and Harper was a big part of it. She outrebounded Edwardsville by herself 11-10 in the first half as the Dolphins raced to a 34-12 lead.I think size-wise shes probably the best rebounder in the country, Young coach Corry Irvin said. She has a knack for the ball that you cant teach. Her rebounding has always been huge.Harper had to contend with Edwardsvilles 6-4 Leigh Kesper and 6-2 Emmonnie Henderson, but beat the Tigers towering duo to the ball time after time. No. 32 (Henderson) is very big, so we just tried to work around it and try to find advantage on defense, Harper said. Its just experience and working hard.This means a lot, Ive been at Whitney Young three years and to get a state championship means a lot. Im really happy and blessed to have the team I did.Harpers work on the boards helped Young dart out of the gate. The Dolphins took a 16-6 lead after eight minutes thanks to a three-pointer from the corner by Alexis Lloyd, baskets by 6-foot-6 sophomore Khaalia Hillsman, freshman Tanita Allen and Thompson and three free throws by Brame.The Dolphins continued their relentless push in the second quarter. Lloyds jumper in the lane made it 28-10 with 3:06 remaining, and her rebound of Harpers miss extended the lead to 32-12. Sydney Snower put the final touches on the first half with a short fade in the lane. About the only thing Edwardsville fans had to cheer about in the first half was a vicious pick set by Henderson on Lloyd midway through the second quarter. But Henderson picked up her third foul moments later and finished the first half with just two points and four rebounds.Young led by 23 points at 50-27 on a three-pointer by Jasmine Ogunjimi with 6:56 remaining in the fourth quarter before Edwardsville closed on a 24-13 run. But it was too little too late.We had a letdown, Irvin said. We lost focus for a little bit in the second half. Its tough to keep them focused when you have a lead like that.If Young began celebrating too early, it was a fault easily forgiven.I think its great, Irvin said. Im sure its going to go down in history. I think this is probably one of the best teams in Illinois history. Its good for the program. Its good for the school. Im really proud of the girls and everything theyve done this year.Lloyd and Allen each finished with nine points for Young. Ashia Jones led Edwardsville (34-2) with 18 points and Henderson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.Im proud that we didnt quit, Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. It would have been awfully easy to. What they did to us in the first half is what weve done to everybody all year. We knew it was going to be tough coming in. Theyre awfully talented, well-coached and a great program.
By Phil Brozynski