Timberwolves fall just short of state tournament

Feb. 27—FARMER CITY — Anthony Videka knows his Cissna Park girls' basketball history.

Not necessarily because he's served as the Timberwolves' coach for the past nine years, but because his sister-in-law, Mandy Maurer, was on the first team in program history to make the state tournament in 2000.

"That was quite a good team, and I've heard quite a lot of stories just sitting around the dinner table and hearing about this girl and that girl and what they did was special," Videka said. "Just hearing some of the things they're saying, I see some of that in our team."

The 2023-24 version of the Timberwolves made it one step away from heading back to state for the first time since the turn of the century, but ultimately lost 52-44 to Altamont on Monday night in a Class 1A Blue Ridge Super-Sectional game.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Videka talked with The News-Gazette and mentioned how his team enjoys big games and thrives when the lights are brightest. The Timberwolves proved that last week, besting LeRoy 44-41 in the Ridgeview Sectional semifinals and then Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 43-42 in double overtime in the championship to win their first sectional title since 2014.

Monday night was even bigger, and Cissna Park (27-8) was up for the task until the final minute.

"We've had a tough schedule this year, and we've been in a lot of these situations, so we've been preparing for this moment," Cissna Park sophomore Addison Lucht said. "We did a great job getting used to it, so the moment's not too big. We came out on the wrong end (Monday night), but it's a good experience for us. It'll help us grow."

The game went back and forth through the entire first half, with the score tied at 12 after the first quarter and Altamont (27-6) holding a slim 23-20 lead at halftime.

The Indians took control in the opening minutes of the second half and had a 38-25 advantage with two minutes left in the third quarter. But Cissna Park wouldn't go away. Far from it.

Cissna Park's next three possessions, Lucht made a pair of free throws, fellow sophomore Sophie Duis converted an old-fashioned three-point play and Lucht knocked down two more free throws to trim Cissna Park's deficit to 38-32 heading into the fourth quarter.

The run continued at the start of the fourth quarter, sending the Timberwolves' faithful into a frenzy. Lucht drilled a three-pointer early in the quarter, and Duis followed it with a tough basket through traffic to increase their run to 14-0. Just like that, and only three minutes into the final period, the Timberwolves had a 39-38 lead.

"We just never quit," Lucht said. "This whole season, we've come back from deficits, and we knew we could do it again if we just kept believing in our abilities."

But Altamont countered Cissna Park's run, taking a 46-42 lead with less than two minutes left and not relinquishing it to punch a berth in Thursday's state semifinal game against Illini Bluffs at CEFCU Arena on the Illinois State University campus in Normal.

Monday night's loss ended Cissna Park's 12-game win streak, its season and the high school careers of seniors Regan King and Morgan Sinn. Videka held back tears while talking about what each of them meant to the program both on and off the court.

"Morgan and Regan are just two special girls," Videka said. "Those two are like my daughters, and I'm extremely proud of them."

The difference between this year's team and the 2000 team is the one of yesteryear was led by upperclassmen. While King and Sinn were key parts, this Cissna Park team is full of talented underclassmen. Three sophomores in Lucht, Duis and Lauryn Hamrick, were in the starting lineup this season, and another, Neukomm, was the first player off the bench.

Lucht scored a team-high 17 points for Cissna Park, while Hamrick and Neukomm each added eight points and Duis finished with seven points.

On top of them, Maurer's daughter, Ava Henrichs, is a freshman on the team, and she already plays major minutes for Videka.

So, while this season didn't end the way they would have liked, the Timberwolves have plenty to look forward to with this young core leading the way.

"We have the pieces," Lucht said. "We just have to keep grinding in practice and keep this bitter taste in our mouth for next year. Hopefully, we'll make it back here and even further."