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FLANAGAN - Jeff Sprouse admits he is a very impatient person.

"I like to do things in a fast way. I always have," said the seventh-year Flanagan High School girls basketball coach.

"That's just the way I'm wired. I just don't like standing back waiting for things to happen."

That explains why his Falcons have played an up-tempo, full-court pressing style during their 28-3 season, which continues at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Class A state tournament quarterfinals against No. 10-state ranked Spring Valley Hall (29-3) at Redbird Arena.

To play the Sprouse Way, a team needs to be deep with interchangeable parts, with players who can run and jump like deer.

It just so happens the Flanagan roster is packed with track and volleyball stars, who make Sprouse feel he has eight starters.

"It doesn't happen very often," said Sprouse of his team's depth. "That's one thing we worked on last year. We had to develop it last year with all the injuries we had. That's the thing at a small school you don't always have."

With an enrollment of 179, Flanagan is the smallest school in the Elite Eight. The next smallest with 232 is No. 3-ranked Okawville (27-7), the highest ranked team left.

Sprouse has fostered depth by focusing on the fundamentals one might teach a junior high team.

"Things we work on all the time are dribbling and passing because every kid needs to be (an all-around) basketball player," he said. "We spend 15 minutes dribbling and 20 minutes shooting every night. It's basic junior high stuff."

In Flanagan's 48-42 super-sectional upset of No. 9 St. Joseph-Ogden on Monday, almost every Falcon had to bring the ball up court at some point.

"When you get that type of pressure, that's the type of thing that's huge," Sprouse said.

Most often, the ball is brought up by 5-foot-7 senior point guard Brittany Leonard, who leads the Pantagraph area with 5.6 assists and 4.8 steals per game while averaging 15.6 points.

"She is an awesome ballplayer," said 6-1 junior center Megan Laughlin, who adds 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.4 blocks. "She knows what needs to get done and she does it. She is always there for everyone else."

Leonard believes every Falcon can rely on the others.

"We are very unselfish," she said. "We just naturally play together. We rely on other people. That's where the unselfishness comes in. We can rely on each other and we don't think we have to do everything on our own."

Such comments are music to the ears of Sprouse, whose other job is as a swine consultant.

The thing he likes most about Leonard is her competitive attitude, but that is also the worst thing, according to assistant coach Brad Harmon.

"You can't reel her back in," Harmon said.

But Sprouse has seen her change in that respect.

"She learned this year about sharing the wealth," he said. "She has done a fantastic job of that. That really was the main key to making this team go was her passing ability, setting her team up for the assist."

Among those helping turn assists into points is 6-foot Southern Illinois volleyball recruit Kelsie Laughlin, who averages 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Kelsie Laughlin has played in 18 of her team's 31 games. She missed nine because of a knee injury and four because she also plays club volleyball.

Her sister, Megan, has also missed four games because of volleyball. It's a team rule that if you elect to miss a game, you have to sit out the next game.

"We just don't jell (without the Laughlins)," said Harmon, who works as a swine health representative. "When they are gone, it takes a few games to get it back."

Both Laughlins were absent when the Falcons lost to Central Catholic. Other losses came against No. 6-state ranked Williamsville and IVC.

"They have their priorities and volleyball is obviously theirs so we just try to work around it," said sophomore guard Anna Jones (8.1 ppg).

The Laughlins missed Sunday's team walk-through because of volleyball.

"I'm sure everybody has their own personal opinions about it, but we just knew if we wanted to get where we need to, we couldn't let that affect the way we played," Leonard said.

Megan Laughlin is expected to join her sister in the Division I college volleyball ranks.

"Volleyball has always come first, but we love basketball," Kelsie said. "We've been playing it since we were little."

Other starters are Caitlyn Jones (5.7 ppg) and Meganne Forney (4.3 ppg). The Joneses and their basketball-playing brother, Dan, are triplets.

"The Joneses are two outstanding sophomores who have stepped up this year and just played outstanding," Leonard said. "I rely on them a lot because when we need speed, they are right there next to you. They are tough girls.

"Meganne Forney is just an outstanding defensive player. She always has a good attitude. She's fun to play with."

Liz Hillman (5.0 ppg) and Amanda Bohm (3.1 ppg) also play a lot. Hillman has a team-high 38 3-pointers.

Sprouse is sure Anna Jones, Bohm and Hillman could start for many other teams. But they are needed at Flanagan to play their impatient coach's frenetic style.

"We play four quarters and we run for all four quarters," he said. "It pains them in the last minute and a half to run that (stalling) weave out front because it's too slow for them."

It's also too slow for their coach, who can hardly wait.


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