By Randy Kindred
The Laughlin sisters were playing club volleyball the first time Flanagan and Central Catholic high schools met in basketball this season. In their absence, the Falcons and Saints held an impromptu track meet, racing from one end of the floor to the other before Central prevailed, 73-70.
"Everybody was on fire and it was up and down the court," Saints' coach Debbie Coffman said of the Jan. 7 game at Bloomington.
"We were pretty shorthanded, so we just kept running and they kept running," Flanagan coach Jeff Sprouse said. "Whoever could get one defensive stop was going to win."
Both coaches anticipate a less frantic pace today when top-seeded Flanagan (26-3) faces the second-seeded Saints (18-11) for the championship of the Central Catholic Class A Sectional. Flanagan will have 6-foot senior Kelsie Laughlin and her 6-0 sophomore sister, Megan, in the starting lineup for the 7:30 p.m. game.
"We'd like to keep them (the Falcons) in the 50s," Coffman said.
"I doubt if it will be in the 70s again, but you never know," Sprouse said. "I have a feeling both teams will be a little more controlled."
Also tonight, Dwight (21-9) takes on Interstate Eight Conference rival Reed-Custer (23-6) for the Herscher Sectional championship. The teams split two games in the regular season.
Central Catholic Sectional
Flanagan is in the sectional final for the first time, while Central is seeking its third super-sectional berth in four years.
The Laughlin sisters each average close to 11 points per game, with Kelsie, a Southern Illinois volleyball recruit, scoring a season-high 24 in Monday's semifinal win over Illini Bluffs.
"(The Laughlins) bring size and an inside-outside game," Coffman said. "Their press will be a little different too because one of them is in the front and one in the back.
"But we're anxious to play them. We keep hearing, 'Well, you beat them, but they didn't have the Laughlin girls.' Right now, it's anybody's game and who plays the hardest. Hopefully, our strength of schedule will help us."
Sprouse called the Saints' schedule "tremendous" and their record "deceiving."
"Throw in the fact you have to play them on their home floor for a pretty big prize, and it makes it a daunting task," Sprouse added. "They shot extremely well against us last time. It will be an interesting game. It's not going to be a huge contrast in styles because both teams really like to pressure the ball."
Flanagan's leading scorer is senior guard Brittany Leonard at 15 points per game. Coffman said the Saints may focus "a little more" on Leonard and the Laughlins, but added, "They have a lot of other weapons and they're very athletic. Hopefully, we can slow it down a little bit."
Central's top scorers are senior Stacey Miller (13 ppg), junior Jessi Kohn (9.0) and sophomore Amanda Murray (9.0). Miller is the only starter back from last year's super-sectional team.
Tonight's winner advances to Monday's 7:30 p.m. Illinois Wesleyan Super-Sectional at Shirk Center against the PBL Sectional champion (St. Joseph-Ogden or Westville).
Third-seeded Dwight defeated No. 2 seed Reed-Custer 60-53 on Dec. 5 at Braidwood and lost to the Comets on Jan. 12 at Dwight, 53-46. Dwight coach Jeff Froelich called today's 7:30 p.m. game "just another I-Eight (Interstate Eight) battle," but admitted, "There's a lot more at stake."
Dwight has thrived on defense, most recently in Tuesday's 45-27 semifinal win over St. Francis de Sales. The offense is led by 6-3 senior Kelsey Jorstad (10.5 ppg) and 5-7 junior Kelli Humbert (9.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg). Jorstad has scored 16 and 15 points the past two games and Humbert has grabbed 15 and 14 rebounds.
Froelich said junior guard Megan Kohrt (8.5 ppg) is questionable after she "tweaked her knee" in Tuesday's gamE.
Dwight's focus on defense will be Reed-Custer guard Jenny Cornelli, who scored 22 points in the last meeting.
"She's their spark," Froelich said. "She really gets them going."
Tonight's winner advances to the Loyola Super-Sectional Monday against the Chicago St. Benedict Sectional champion (Walther Lutheran or Chicago Latin).
"We've already tied for the most wins in Dwight history. But no (Dwight girls) team ever won a sectional," Froelich said. "That's the goal for these kids."