A smorgasbord of hardcourt activity

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With girls basketball wrapping up and the boys state tournament going on, it's been a smorgasbord of hardcourt activity. Where to start?

How about academics first. After all, isn't that supposed to be the number-one priority for a high schooler and allegedly for so-called college "student-athletes"?

The IHSA has an all-academic team and it may be the toughest of all teams to make, as only 26 individuals from the state are selected. Based on citizenship, grades and sports participation, it is the elite of the elite and Byron's Ava Kultgen was one of the honorees.

In interviewing her after the super-sectional win over DePaul Prep, her intellect and poise were quite evident. If I was a high school kid and was interviewed after a game, it would be difficult to respond in an articulate manner, as is the case with most kids I have interviewed.

It's even taxing on coaches. It would be much better for all parties if time allowed us to wait an hour or so to process the information and sit down in a relaxed environment. An impromptu post-game with a microphone or TV camera in your face isn't conducive for that.

Anyway, congratulations to Ava and also to the Byron Tigers basketball team for the runner-up finish downstate. They have to be running out of room in the school trophy case for all the state trophies accumulated over the last couple decades.

Being out of state, I missed covering the state finals, but in listening to WRHL online, it sounded like champion Breese Mater Dei had a gigantic player clogging up the middle. They also had to be pretty decent to knock off Quincy Notre Dame in the semis.

None-the-less, an outstanding achievement for coach Eric Yerly and his class-act basketball team. With plenty of talent coming back, look for this program to be ranked top 10 to start the 2023-2024 season.

As expected, the local 1A boys sectional was about as close as possible, with Scales Mound winning for the third time in a row by a narrow margin. First, it was 57-53 regional title over Newman, after trailing late in the game. 

Then, it took two overtimes to beat South Beloit in the sectional semi, who had decisively beaten the Hornets earlier. In returning to the super-sectional for the second year in a row, they edged Fulton 50-46.

All three of those games were coin flips and though the odds were against this tiny school that lost all their starters from last year, they came through. One major component for Scales Mound personnel is living the sport all year and being better equipped out-smart an opponent in pressure situations.

Supposedly, last year's squad of four-year starters were a once-in-a-generation team. That term applies to homegrown talent, not basketball programs that have large population bases or can entice transfers. 

To have back-to-back sectional champs with 70 kids in the school is amazing. People from Hebron would be proud of you. The year before they became the smallest school ever to win a state title with the unquestioned best once-in-a-generation team, Hebron was 26-2 in 1951, but lost in the regional.

The local area did well with Rockford Lutheran and Auburn also winning sectionals. That tough regular-season schedule Lutheran played paid huge dividends. The pain of losing can be the touchstone of growth, that's for sure.

Rockford Auburn gets it done with small, fast kids that out-execute more traditional opponents, with Fred VanVleet being the forbearer. 

The one sectional final that had to be the most nerve wracking was a four-overtime contest in 1A between Altamont and Tuscola, with Tuscola finally prevailing 72-68. There must be a lot of balance in 1A boys, with seven of eight sectional finals decided by single digits.

Glad to report plenty of precipitation out west where I spent some time in Nevada and Utah. It is desperately needed and coming in doses larger than seen in many years.

While in Nevada, I took part in a running festival with a variety of distances offered. What impressed me most was seeing a trio of men over 80 years of age doing a 100-mile race and all three completed it.

They weren't running fast, but the fact they could stay on their feet for that long says something.

The youngest competitor was a 12-year old, who got 62 miles in.

Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.