Spartans scrap Rockets - Cain scores 15 for SJO

In the opening quarter of their Illini Prairie Conference game, Chance Izard sank three treys to help St. Joseph-Ogden establish a first half 26-20 lead over Unity at the Rocket Center on Tuesday. He would swish one more in the third period before falling silent for the remainder game as the Spartans persevered, surviving a battle royale with rowdy Rockets, 54-46.

"It was really a hard-fought game," Izard said. The senior, who was 4-for-7 from three point range, finished the night with 14 points. "Toward the end, down the stretch, we took care of things and ended up getting the win."

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SJO's Conner Hodge pulls down a rebound
Conner Hodge tries to snag a defensive rebound for the Spartans. Hodge finished the conference win with eight of SJO's 32 rebounds. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Committing nine turnovers didn't help the Spartans' cause. In most instances the possession changes offered opportunities for Unity's Jared Routh, who posted 18 points, to put the ball through the net.

Izard said one of things that he and his fellow teammates need to focus on is ball possession. In particular, he pointed out turnovers.

"That's pretty obvious," he said. "Ultimately, we just have to be more prepared mentally."

When they needed him most, Payton Cain stepped up to lead the Spartan offense finishing the away game with one point more than Izard behind a 63.3% shooting effort. The senior guard also had six boards and four steals.

One thing for sure, Unity's 4-14 record did not match their resolve or effort against the Spartans.

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Ty Pence blocks a shot
Ty Pence blocks a Unity's Nate Drennan. SJO's big man scored seven points. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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Payton Grimsley dribbling the ball
Payton Grimsley drives to the paint during first half action. The senior finished the night with six points and five rebounds. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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SJO dance team
A member of the SJO Dance team performs with her team and the Unity Rockettes during halftime. Both dance teams advanced out of the Effingham sectional to compete at this weekend's IHSA Competitive Dance State Finals. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

"We knew they wanted it and they played like it," Izard said about the coveted W between the two longtime rival programs.

Routh, who like Izard finished the night with four treys, was proud the way his fellow Rockets brought their A-game to the hardwood against the Spartans.

"I think we all stepped up in a major way," said Routh, one of four Unity seniors this season. Despite the loss and having yet to post a win in 2020, he was happy with the strides his teammates have made since the start of the season. "I believe we all took it to the next level."

Spartan senior Conner Hodge lead all players in rebounds, aggressively hauling in seven defensive ones and one offensive board. Drew Coursey snagged another five for SJO.

Next up, St. Joseph-Ogden hosts 18-5 Prairie Central on Friday. The Hawks suffered a snap in an eight-game win streak after losing to Pontiac on the road, 54-50. Tipoff for the conference showdown is scheduled for 7pm.

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Despite being knocked off his feet, Referee Keith Johnson keeps his eyes on the action during second half action between the Spartans and Rockets. Johnson quickly got back on his feet with no interruption to the flow of the game. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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While trying to slash his way into the paint, Payton Cain loses control of the ball with a little help from Unity's Blake Kimball. Cain led the SJO scoring effort with 15 points. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Box Score
St. Joseph-Ogden 12 14 14 14 - 54
Team 2 10 10 16 10 - 46

St. Joseph-Ogden: Conner Hodge 3, Payton Cain 15, Jordan Kelly 5, Drew Coursey 4, Payton Grimsley 6, Chance Izard 14 and Ty Pence 7.

Unity: Blake Kimball 2, JP Bowers 3, Jared Routh 18, Nate Drennan 10, Jordan Clark 5 and Karson Ewerks 8.

Barnes scores 18 in Monticello win

Taylor Barnes had a great game against Monticello.

Making seven of her nine free throw attempts, Barnes scored a game-high 18 points in St. Joseph-Ogden's 47-39 home win over the Sages.

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Spartan Atleigh Hamilton tries to steal the ball from Sages' Lizzie Stiverson. Hamilton gave a strong defensive effort to help the Spartans extend their record to a two-game win streak. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

"She made free throws and she was aggressive," was the first thing head coach Kevin Taylor said about the senior's performance in the Martin Luther King Day contest. "We always talk to her about being more aggressive. She made a couple of drives and got a couple of rebounds - she just put it altogether tonight."

It was by no means a clean basketball game. Both teams engaged in scrappy play, something the SJO, despite their youth was better at.

"It was a scrappy, physical game. Whenever we play our conference schools it can be that way," he said. "Everybody wants to win."

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Monticello's Olivia Swanson dribbles around Ella Armstrong
Monticello's Olivia Swanson tries to dribble past SJO sophomore Ella Armstrong during first half action. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

A week ago Monday, Taylor's Spartans wanted it more.

Up by one thanks to Barnes' seven points in the second quarter at the half, the Spartans played a much stronger second half.

"We didn't start the best," Taylor pointed out. "We still got a lot to work. I know the end of the year is getting here pretty quick, but I liked that they settled in and started running a little bit better offense."

St. Joseph-Ogden played a consistent pace producing 13 points in the last three quarters of the Illini Prairie Conference game.

Despite missing two of her three free throws, Katie Cramer was the Spartans' second leading scorer with eight points. Ella Armstrong scored six and Ashlyn Lannert enter the game after the start contributing another five points.

Monticello center Jayna Burger finished with 15 points. The 5-11 senior was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Cleo Clark, who converted five out of her six trips to the charity stripe, finished with 10 points for the Sages.

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Katie Cramer fights for control of a loose ball
Senior Katie Cramer scoops up a loose ball in the second half between Monticello's Cloe Clark and Lizzie Stiverson. Cramer finished the contest with eight points. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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Payton Vallee inspects boo-boo
Payton Vallee checks her elbow after a hard fall during second half action against the Sages. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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Atleigh fights for offensive rebound
In the midst of a sea of hair and arms, Atleigh Hamilton snags a rebound for the Spartans. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

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Ella Armstrong grabs the ball
Ella Armstrong looks up while she secures the ball after ripping it from the grasp on Monticello Jayna Burger. Armstrong finished with six points in the conference win over the Sages. (PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Box Score
St. Joseph-Ogden 8 13 13 13 - 47
Monticello 10 10 7 12 - 39

St. Joseph-Ogden: Ella Armstrong 6, Payton Valle 4, Taylor Barnes 18, Katie Cramer 8, Atleigh Hamilton 2, Taylor Wells 2, Payton Jacob 2 and Ashlyn Lannert 5.

Monticello: Cloe Clark 10, Renni Fultz 6, Lizzie Stiverson 8 and Jayna Burger 15.

Four tie for team-high in conference loss to Unity

Plagued by a mid-game shooting slump where St. Joseph-Ogden (15-6) could only muster a mere 13 points over two quarters, the Spartans girls basketball team dropped their Illini Prairie road game to Unity, 49-40.

It took five hardworking SJO players to match the Rockets' one girl scoring machine Elyce Knudsen and her first quarter output on January 13. Ashyln Lannert, Payton Jacob, Atleigh Hamilton, Taylor Barnes and Ella Armstrong combined for 14 points in the opening frame to offset the Unity senior's 13.

As the game wore on, the Spartans ability to produce points to keep up with the Rockets (14-6) temporarily fell by the wayside.

Outscored 13-4 in the third quarter where Lannert made two free throws and sophomore Alyssa Hamilton chipped in a bucket, the Spartans unsuccessfully tried claw their way back in the fourth.

Four St. Joseph-Ogden players tied for the team-high with six points. Lannert, Atleigh Hamilton, Katie Cramer and Barnes matched their game combined for 24 of the Spartans 40 points.

Knudsen, after dropping 18 points in the first half, led Unity's effort with a game-high 29 points.

Box Score
St. Joseph-Ogden 14 9 4 13 - 40
Unity 13 13 12 11 - 49

St. Joseph-Ogden: Ashlyn Lannert 6, Payton Jacob 5, Atleight Hamilton 6, Katie Cramer 6, Abby Behrens 2, Taylor Barnes 6, Alyssa Hamilton 4 and Ella Armstrong 5.

Unity: Chloee Reed 6, Lauren Miller 3, Taylor Henry 9, Elyce Knudsen 29 and Martina Miebach 2.

Back-to-back, SJO Dance Team qualifies for IHSA state finals

For a second consecutive season, the St. Joseph-Ogden Dance Team will compete at the Illinois High School Association's Competitive State Dance Finals at Grossinger Motor Arena in Bloomington. The Spartans gracefully danced their way to state after finishing in fourth place at the Effingham sectional last Saturday.

Members of the SJO Dance Team perform their hip-hop routine at the Spartans' home basketball game against Paxton-Buckley-Loda. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

"We are so excited to be going to IHSA State again this year! I believe we have the hardest 1A sectional in the state and we competed against a lot of really good teams on Saturday," said head coach Emily Williams. "I knew these girls could do it, but also knew the competition was very tough, so we are elated to have made the top six out of the 17 teams in our sectional!"

The top six teams from five sectionals around the state advanced to the state finals this weekend. SJO finished with a score of 82.40 behind the Unity Rockettes' 83.97 and Clinton's 89.77. Jacksonville High School won the sectional title with a score of 89.83. Host St. Anthony took fifth place and Quincy Notre Dame rounded out the top six schools in the division.

"It’s fun to bring something new, when everyone is expecting you to do what you’ve always done!"
The dance team is the fourth St. Joseph-Ogden athletic program to qualify for state finals competition this academic year. Both the girls and boys cross country squads, along with the Class 2A third-place volleyball team, have earned the title of state finalists since last August.

Williams says there are several elements to being a successful competitive dancer.

"(It is) mostly hard work, dedication and willingness to get out of your comfort zone," she said. "Dancers also need patience, as you aren’t going to be able to do new things overnight. The love for dance might be the most important thing, it makes all of the hard work and dedication worth it."

The Spartans will perform their routine in the preliminary round at the 'Big Dance' on Friday at 10:47am. The top 12 teams advance to Saturday's Class 1A finals.

"We definitely have to bring our A-game on Friday," Williams said. "We will need to hit all of our choreography and technique. We also always remind the girls that no matter how nervous they are, they have to go out there and have fun and that will show through in their dancing."

This will be the fourth trip to the state finals for the SJO program since the IHSA started hosting a competitive dance state series in 2013. Dancers in 2014, 2016 and last year have performed in the prelims. This year could be the first time in school history that SJO dancers will have a chance to compete in the finals.

In the past three trips to state the St. Joseph-Ogden squads performed hip-hop routines. This year's competition routine will be different.

"We are competing with our lyrical routine for IHSA this year, which is a first for our team," Williams, who said her team is great at performing both lyrical and hip-hop routines. Like the other athletic teams the school supports, Spartans are never ones to shy away from a challenge. "It’s fun to bring something new, when everyone is expecting you to do what you’ve always done!"

Lyrical dance is typically composed of movements and techniques from classical ballet, modern and jazz dance. Routines are usually expressive and innovative. Performed to music, the movements designed to express strong feelings and emotions interpreted from the song's lyrics by the choreographer.

Members expected to compete on Friday include captains senior Ava Mills and juniors Isabelle Brooks and Samantha Naylor. Lexi Ribbe, the squad's only other senior this season, along with juniors Kylie Duckett, Tessa Smith, Bella Getty, and two sophomores, Ella Besson and Alessa Anzelmo, will be on the competition floor on Friday morning.

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