IHSA Class 1A State Champions : Illini Central Cougars

I had a pretty fun week last week. I was able to secure a press pass for the IHSA Class 1A State Finals in Peoria, and while I was at it, went ahead and got one for the Super Sectional in Bloomington. Cougar nation (Mason City, Easton, San Jose) had high hopes for their boys' basketball team, after their 3rd place finish at State last year, and if they went back this time, I wanted to cover it. Tuesday started out like any other day, I answered some emails and got my camera gear ready. There was a snowstorm in the forecast, so I told Aaron I was going to head out early to make sure I got there safe and sound (and on time.) I made it to Downs before the ISU athletic department called me and told me the game had been postponed. Oh well. The drive home was actually better anyway! So Wednesday, I repeated the whole process, and got over to Bloomington a few hours before tipoff. I was also able to stop by the hospital and see my past clients/friends Lindsey & Sam's new baby boy Michael who had been born during the snowstorm the day before.

Illini Central ended up winning over Cissna Park, 50-39. So then it was time to make plans for Peoria on Friday. I had a 6-month-old baby girl session first thing in the morning on Friday, so I did that session, and then left straight for the state finals from there. The Cougars ended up handling Nokomis in the semi-finals well, defeating them 52-38. I spent the night in Hopedale at my friend Kristina's house before heading back in to Peoria again on Saturday for the state championship. This game was totally intense. For you Illini fans out there, it felt like the 2005 Illinois-North Carolina game national championship all over again. Nothing was going our way, shots weren't falling, our best big man was in foul trouble. But then in the 4th quarter, they turned it on, and turned the game around. This team was not going home without a win. I won't lie, when they tied the score at 32, the tears welled up a little bit! Illini Central outscored Madison 28-12 in the 4th quarter to win 55-44. The Cougars were state champions for the first time ever. It was so cool being on the floor after the game, and seeing all these familiar faces from my hometown community congratulating each other and loving that moment.

This Cougar team was comprised on NINE seniors, and I'd like to recognize the whole team by name here: Jared Entwistle (all-state), Jordan Bradshaw, Justin Onken, Duncan McClure, Grant Bale, Connor Martin, Noah Kirby, Jesse Thompson, Ean Albers, Derrick Himmel, Willie Neuendorf, Cody Curry, Jordan Lynn, & Justin Luft. Congrats again to the Illini Central Cougar boys' basketball team! I'm one very proud alum!