By Lenny Sementi
Senior girls’ basketball players Alexis Koester and Cassie Russo took the floor for the final time at historic Tuscola High School gym Thursday, Feb. 1 as they collected win number 21 on the season routed Meridian 68-35.
The victory sealed the deal on a second consecutive undefeated regular season Central Illinois Conference Championship but was bitter sweet as Koester was forced to sit courtside due to a season-ending injury.
Koester thanked both assistant coaches Lydia Miller and Justin Quick before stating her appreciation for coach Kohlbecker.
“He has pushed me to be a better player and person and has taught me to follow my dreams and never give up when times get rough. His inspirational quotes seem to motivate me daily,” she said. “I am thankful for all the extra time he puts in for us girls; it means more to us than he will ever know.”
Russo, who moves on to play basketball at Parkland College next season, reiterated the thanks to all involved.
“I will never forget Saturday morning team breakfasts and volunteering at the crisis nursery with the team,” she said. “As well as Doug Williamson’s words of wisdom ‘it’s simple; you just have to score more points than they other team.’”
Russo stepped up her game in support for her classmate accounting for a game high 16 rebounds and 19 points including eight of the Warriors’ 11 points in a tight first quarter. She ended the regular season averaging more than a double-double every night in the 25-game campaign in which Tuscola ended with a 21-4 record overall and a 7-0 mark in the CIC.
The two seniors have been a part of the varsity squad since they were freshmen and, with a victory earlier in the week over Warrensburg, have been part of over half of coach Tim Kohlbecker’s eight 20-win seasons during his 13-year career as the leader of the Lady Warriors. They’ve also celebrated three regional championships together with hopes of collecting their fourth this week as the top seed in the Arthur-Lovington Regional.
Coach K’s group, that was still attempting to find its offensive flow after losing both starting guards for the season to injury, turned up the heat on defense allowing the offense to run. Brynn Tabeling found Russo three times in the second frame at the hoop, and Abbey Jacob was big off the bench kick starting a 18-2 run with a coast-to-coast layup following a steal. The sophomore drained a three as well, and so did junior Grace Dietrich, which punctuated a 23-point quarter giving the Warriors a comfortable 34-16 lead at the break.
The full story can be found in the Wednesday, Feb. 7 edition of The Tuscola Journal.