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The News-Gazette's girls' basketball Top 10: Tuscola finishes at No. 1

Apr. 13—The final area girls' basketbal poll of the 2023-24 season has a familiar name at the top: Tuscola. The Warriors stood out above the rest

in another strong season on the hardwood. Sports Editor Matt Daniels has more on the local scene before next winter approaches:

1. Tuscola

➜ Record: 28-3

➜ Previous ranking: No. 1

➜ What worked: Pretty much everything. A third straight Class 1A regional title, Central Illinois Conference tournament and regular-season titles and a Monticello Holiday Hoopla title all ensued for coach Tim Kohlbecker in his final season with the Warriors. Sydney Moss and Co. put together another season to remember. Well done.

2. Salt Fork

➜ Record: 28-6

➜ Previous ranking: No. 2

➜ What worked: A Vermilion County tournament title, a Vermilion Valley Conference regular-season title, the program's first regional title since 2020 and a trip to the Sweet 16 made coach Brian Russell's team tough to beat. All the more impressive considering Salt Fork was 9-5 in late December before rattling off a 19-game win streak.

3. Cissna Park

➜ Record: 27-8

➜ Previous ranking: No. 3

➜ What worked: The lone area team to win a sectional championship, the Timberwolves advanced all the way to the Elite Eight in Class 1A before losing to eventual state runner-up Altamont. With a young core in place, led by Addison Lucht, the future sure looks bright for coach Anthony Videka's program.

4. Watseka

➜ Record: 27-5

➜ Previous ranking: No. 6

➜ What worked: An 8-0 spurt to start the season was followed by a 14-game win streak that had the Warriors at 22-1 in late January. Haven Meyer and the rest of her teammates propelled coach Barry Bauer's team to the Sweet 16 in Class 2A, with Watseka winning 24 games by double digits in a superb season.

5. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley

➜ Record: 23-10

➜ Previous ranking: No. 4

➜ What worked: An undefeated November foreshadowed a strong season for coach Ross Harden's Falcons. With freshman sensation Lily Sizemore leading the way, GCMS won a Class 1A regional title and pushed Cissna Park to the brink in a classic sectional semifinal game.

6. Arcola

➜ Record: 24-6

➜ Previous ranking: No. 5

➜ What worked: The duo of Kacie Sisk and Jacey Kessler pushed coach Corey Roberts' Purple Riders to a second straight season of at least 22 wins. Arcola put together two separate winning streaks of at least seven games, won the Lincoln Prairie Conference tournament championship and reached a Class 1A regional title game.

7. St. Joseph-Ogden

➜ Record: 17-12

➜ Previous ranking: No. 9

➜ What worked: A second-half emergence allowed the Spartans to play their best from January on, with coach Drew Arteaga's program winning its sixth Class 2A regional championship since 2018. With Addy Martinie and Addison Frick setting the tone, SJ-O recovered from a 5-7 start and finished second in the Illini Prairie Conference.

8. LeRoy

➜ Record: 20-13

➜ Previous ranking: Not ranked

➜ What worked: The Panthers didn't let some struggles in December and January derail them from hoisting IHSA hardware in February. Coach Chris Houser's team, led by Molly Buckles, gave LeRoy its first Class 1A regional title in eight years and the program its first 20-win team since the 2015-16 season.

9. Arthur Christian

➜ Record: 27-3

➜ Previous ranking: No. 8

➜ What worked: The Conquering Riders don't play in the IHSA postseason, but Annabelle Haskins and Co. won an East Central Illinois Conference regular-season title to go along with three tournament titles. A 14-game win streak from just after Thanksgiving to the second week in January was another highlight.

10. Unity

➜ Record: 19-12

➜ Previous ranking: No. 10

➜ What worked: The Rockets fared well in a competitive Illini Prairie Conference, finishing 7-2 in league play and advanced to a Class 2A regional title game. Raegen Stringer was a consistent presence all season, keeping coach Dave Ellars' team in every game this past winter.