“I will love this forever”

Peoria Notre Dame 47
Lady Potters 17

There was a running clock of all things, the Potters already down by 30, when Tatym Lamprecht walked back onto the court. Her coach, Bob Becker, was sending his team’s three seniors in for the last seconds of their high school days. Lamprecht touched the corners of her eyes, touching away the tears, her face puffy and red with the night’s sad story.

I caught up to her maybe a half hour later, in a hallway outside the classroom that served as the Potters locker room this night. She was still blinking away tears.

“These two years,” she said, her voice a touch more than a whisper, “were the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.”

And: “This team is the most friends I’ve ever had.”

Trying to talk some more: “Without this team . . . ”

Finally saying, “Before coming here, I never knew how much of a family basketball could be. At East Peoria, no one was close. Here, it’s like another family. I’m with these players, these friends, more than I’m with my own family. I never felt – I never knew – people could get this close through basketball.”

She came to Morton two seasons ago, a junior, a transfer from East Peoria High School, a transfer because her house burned down that summer and her mother found an apartment in Morton. She was moving from a perennial losing high school basketball program into one that had won four state championships in the previous five seasons.

That first year, as a junior, Lamprecht became the Potters’ second-leading scorer, a 3-point sharp-shooter complementing the incomparable Katie Krupa’s inside game. Together, Krupa and Lamprecht helped create a team that surprised us all by going 29-6 and finishing third in the state’s Class 3A tournament.

This year, the 5-foot-7 guard blossomed from a shy-stay-in-the-background extra into a team leader, a star who could win games Morton did not expect to win. Even at 19-11, it’s not much wrong to say these Potters overachieved.

What to say about tonight’s game, basketball-wise? As little as possible. One team was much the best, and that was evident even in the first four minutes. With PND up, 5-4, I made a note on the Potters’ side of my notebook: “OK, but can M ever score again?”

The answer was definitive. Down 11-5 after a quarter, 26-9 at the half, the Potters trailed 40-15 after three. This was beyond definitive. This was no contest. The Potters could do nothing well at either end. And who knew? Three weeks ago, building an eight-game winning streak, the Potters defeated PND on its own court, 49-46. Tonight, in the first round of the regional at Limestone High School, no contest. Season’s over.

“It’s like we went back in time,” Bob Becker said. “Like it was seven, eight weeks ago.” Back then, the Potters were in a five-game losing streak.

Abbey Pollard, another senior, said, “It was a hard game to watch.” Like Lamprecht, she thought it was a special team. “We’re all so close, it’s going to be so hard to be apart from everybody.”

Gaby Heer, the third senior, said, “This team was such a great group of girls. I’m going to miss them so much next year.”

I asked Tatym Lamprecht a writerly question. Five years from now, what will she think of her time with the Lady Potters? As she left the hallway to find her father waiting at midcourt, she said, “This team, I’ve never felt so much love. I will love this forever.”

Morton’s scoring tonight: Lamprecht 4, Addy Engel 4, Izzy Hutchinson 4, Pollard 3, Heer 2.

“Toe-to-toe with #2”

Washington 44

Lady Potters 40

Afterwards, when the Potters’ eight-game winning streak was over, Bob Becker asked his Lady Potters what they learned tonight.

“Izzy piped up,” the coach said, meaning Izzy Hutchinson, a junior guard.

“She said, ‘We’ve made progress. We’ve grown as a team.’ And she’s absolutely right.”

Twenty-eight days ago, it was as bad as it gets. The Potters had lost three in a row going into Washington. In the first quarter there, they scored two points. In the second quarter, five points. At halftime, as the thundering Washington High pep band broke the sound barrier in old folks’ ears, it was 27-7. The final embarrassment: 48-25.

So, yes, progress tonight. A better team tonight. Beaten only in the last two minutes by the Mid-Illini Conference champions, now 24-4 for the season. Morton ends its regular season 19-10 and 9-5.

“We had an eight-game winning streak,” Becker said, “and we’re against Washington, the #2 seed in the whole sectional coming up, and we go toe-to-toe with them, and we have the lead late, and we end up losing, but . . .”

I interrupt here to say that for a quarter nobody deserved to win this one. As poorly as Washington shot, Morton handled the ball worse. The Potters’ turnovers, most often the result of careless ballhandling and passing, seldom seemed to cause damage because Washington’s shooters shot clankers. At the quarter, Washington 9-6.

Halftime, Washington 21-19, by which time the Potters had suggested a trend that by game’s end would hurt them badly. They had made only 3 of 7 free throws; all four misses came on two-shot chances.

In the second half, the Potters took the lead seven times, first on Tatym Lamprecht’s 3-pointer early in the third period, the seventh time on her curling layup that made it 38-36 with 3:37 to play.

A minute later, Washington went up 40-38. Morton gained its last tie on two Addy Engel free throws, 1:55 to play. As suggested by failures early, those free throws made Morton 8-for-17 from the line, a losing proposition in most games matching good teams. Four times the Potters missed both ends of two-shot opportunities.

So as these exercises in tension often do, this one came down to a short game, the last minute and 55 seconds.

From 40-all, Washington’s freewheeling ballhandlers found two shooters free for layups while Morton, struggling against the winners’ aggressive defense, twice failed on desperate drives in the paint.

Back to what the coach, Becker, was saying when he left off at “but . . .” Then, “It’s not like we have insurmountable things to deal with” before the regional starts Monday. “It’s not like we played our A game tonight. We played a B-minus, C-plus type game. . . . .In our regional, everybody’s going to have to play well to win.”

Monday at Limestone High School, it’s #5 seed Morton against #3 Peoria Notre Dame. The winner most likely will play Washington on Thursday.

I, for one, want to see Morton-Washington 3.0.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Lamprecht 9, Engel 8, Julia Laufenberg 6, Hutchinson 5, Ellie VanMeenen 4, Graci Junis 3, Abbey Pollard 3, Kerrigan Vandel 2.

“We ARE!”

Lady Potters 59

Dunlap 40

It’s not altogether true to say the Potters won this one sitting down. They won it in every way that good teams win big games. With a lightning streak of shooting. By playing confounding defense. By getting every important rebound. And, yes, by flinging themselves in pursuit of every loose ball until there came a time when they could win sitting down.

A fourth quarter loose ball meant Izzy Hutchinson would soon be on her butt with the ball in her hands because that’s what she does. The game was over by then, the Potters up 21. But no matter. This play was too much fun to ignore. It’s the kind of thing good teams do on good nights.

Izzy looked around. She saw Ellie VanMeenen sitting 15 feet to her left. How Ellie came to be sitting, I dunno, other than she’d been bumping into people, too. Teetering on her butt with Dunlappers buzzing around her, Izzy could not throw a textbook pass to Ellie. So she ROLLED it, just to get rid of it, and maybe Ellie then could do something sitting down.

Ellie made a real basketball pass, albeit an unusual one, made while seated, to Addy Engel, who drove to the hoop. She missed on a layup, but no matter because the smallest of the Potters, 5-foot-7 senior guard Tatym Lamprecht, somehow wrestled the rebound away from Dunlap’s big people. She scored on the put-back to finish the kind of whacky improvisation that happens when you’re about to win your eighth straight game.

Lamprecht’s bucket made it 53-30 and there appeared in front of the Potters’ bench a man in a sport coat and a tie doing a high-stepping happy-coach dance, Bob Becker exuberant, celebrating the kind of surprise success that really good teams create.

Only 25 days ago in the Potterdome, the Potters lost to Dunlap, 59-38. That defeat was one of five in a row to begin January 2023.

But now, eight straight victories, only two of them over cupcakes, and Becker was thrilled.

“We were dominant,” he said, “as dominant you can be, on the road, against a 20-win team . . . “

A team losing by 21 five weeks ago beat that team by 19 tonight, which caused a mathematician to ask Becker, “So does that mean you’re 40 points better now than you were then?”

He said, “We are.”

He so much liked his answer that he repeated it, more loudly, with an exclamation point, “We ARE!”

And, “We proved it tonight.”

From the get-go, Morton was the better team. It may have been the Potters’ best game all season. Lamprecht supplied the lightning offense. She made five 3-pointers, all under defensive pressure, three coming in a three-minute stretch of the second quarter when she lifted the Potters to a 30-18 halftime lead. Meanwhile Morton’s 2-3 zone was so confounding that Dunlap was hard-pressed to complete a pass. In Dunlap’s very first possession, the Potters deflected three passes to set a pattern of frustration that left Dunlap beaten.
It was 17-11 after a quarter, 30-17 at the half, and 49-26 after three. Dunlap never came closer than 11 down, at 32-21, and at that point the Potters went on a 10-0 run to close the deal: a Graci Junis 3 from the deep left corner, an Engel layup off a lob pass from the far side, a VanMeenen curl into a left-handed layup, and Lamprecht’s fifth 3 of the night (with one miss, an 83% night for the smiling shootah).

“We’re playing hard,” Becker said, “and we’re making plays, like sometimes we’d call out a set, but we’d play out of it. We’re making basketball plays. Sooo many great moments. Tatym shooting lights out. Ellie, early on, told me, ‘That girl can’t guard me,’ Addy dominant again inside. They’re all in it together. It’s absolutely fun.”

How to explain five straight defeats turning into eight straight victories?

“Same kids, same coach, who knows?”Becker said. “I do know we’ve got a team that’s never going to quit. They’re passing the nerve test every time. We’re playing together, we’re playing to each other’s strengths.”

Lamprecht said, “Everyone, I mean, not one person played a bad game tonight, it was an amazing game for the team.”

Engel: “We’re playing so well together. I feel like we’re in a really good spot heading into the post-season.”

Now 19-9 and 9-4 in the Mid-Illini Conference, the Potters close the regular season Tuesday at home against league-leading Washington.

Regional play begins the next Monday, Morton against Peoria Notre Dame at Limestone High School.

Dunlap is now 20-6 and 9-3.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Lamprecht 19, VanMeenen 12, Engel 11, Hutchinson 7, Junis 6 (two 3’s), Gaby Heer 3 (a 3 in only her second game), Julia Laufenberg 1.

“The way solid, great teams do”

Lady Potters 65

East Peoria 17

Afterwards, Bob Becker said, “January! What happened to January? I mean, really. A month is gone in the 2023 season.”

The Potters lost on December 30, 2022, and began the new year with four straight defeats, barely competitive.

“There was a point in there when we were in such a low point . . . ” (after losses to Peoria, Dunlap, Washington, Canton) . . .

“I think I’m pretty tough-minded, usually, but, boy, I was looking at the schedule . . . “ (four games coming against Mahomet-Seymour, Metamora, Galesburg and Peoria Notre Dame). . .

“And wondering if we’d ever win a game.”

Well, now. The sun did rise every day in January. Order was restored in PotterNation. After those five straight losses, the Potters closed January with seven straight victories. Five came against good teams, and however helpless a poor East Peoria team was without two injured starters, one its leading scorer, it remained for the Potters to play well. That, they did.

“Our kids are on an upswing,” Becker said, “and tonight they took care of business the way solid, great teams do.”

They were merciless, those smiling sweethearts in jerseys that on the back bear the dates 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 – years in which the Potters program won state championships.

The first quarter, for instance, went this way . . .

Addy Engel three free throws in the first minute. Izzy Hutchinson a layup off a Tatym Lamprecht pass, then Lamprecht a layup off a Hutchinson pass. Ellie VanMeenen joined the fun with a 3. Engel wound her way in for a layup and then made the first free throw in a bonus situation.

Here, catch a breath. We’re not four minutes into the game and it’s 13-0.

When Engel missed the second free throw, the rebound found its way to Lamprecht, who did what happy shooters do, she put up a 3 as pretty as could be. She followed with a pair of layups, one a breakaway after a midcourt steal, and the second a driving, falling-out-of-bounds curler that kissed the glass and fell in.

Whew, 20-0 in five minutes, 23-0 after a quarter, 39-6 at the half.

By game’s end, the reserves were running free and the starters were dancing on the bench, kids having fun.

Morton is now 18-9, 8-4 in the Mid-Illini Conference with two games left on the regular-season schedule, Friday at Dunlap (which beat the Potters on Jan. 6, 59-38) and next Tuesday at home on Senior Night against Washington (which won at their place, 48-25). East Peoria is 1-22 and 0-12.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Engel 12, Lamprecht 12, Hutchinson 11, Ellie VanMeenen 10, Anja Ruxlow 5, Emilia Miller 5, Julia Laufenberg 4, Annelise Heppe 3, Magda Lopko 2, Kerrigan Vandel 1.

“Heading the right direction”

Lady Potters 58

Limestone 30

Three minutes in, Tatym Lamprecht did the Steph Curry thing. She curled around a screen on the right side and went to the deep corner. The ball came to her there, and she did what shooters do. She put up a pretty rainbow of a 3 that whispered through the net. “I like shooting,” she would say later. “Eighty percent, I shoot 80 percent.”

With a minute left in the first quarter, Lamprecht did it again, this time from a step and a half behind the arc, at 1 o’clock on the dial.

The night before, against Pekin, the 5-foot-7 senior had not even shot a 3. She had played only seven minutes, five of those in the first quarter. The Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, did not like what he saw in his starters that night. He saw no energy, no enthusiasm. Blah, he said. So he did what coaches sometimes do. He told his starters, Lamprecht among them, to sit their sorry butts on the bench.

But tonight, running at full roar, the Potters dominated Limestone in every way, beginning with Lamprecht’s pair of 3’s and continuing with a 15-2 run in the second quarter for a 26-10 halftime lead that declared the issue settled.


The shooter who likes to shoot said she figures she shoots 80 percent?

“Uh,” I said, “that’s four out of five.”

“Of course,” Lamprecht said.

If she says so, and if she’s throwing in four 3’s tonight – well, tonight she didn’t miss one, which made her 4-for-4, which is 100 percent – who’s gonna doubt her?

The next-best good news for the Potters was that second-quarter run created on a bit of everything. Addy Engel, who dominated inside all night long, began it with a drive across the paint for two. Then Ellie VanMeenen’s nifty pass set up Engel again. VanMeenen followed with a muscled-up put-back, a driving layup, and a 3 of her own. Engel closed the quarter with a pair of free throws and another signature creation at the rim. (Addy and Ellie, you might notice, did all the Potters’ scoring that quarter.)

How to explain the overnight transformation from a blah team that struggled against Pekin and yet won going away tonight against a team it beat by only 10 a month ago, 65-55 at Limestone?

Engel: “We were more mentally focused, especially on defense. We didn’t say it oud loud, but I feel like subconsciously we went out last night just expecting to win. But tonight we had the mentality that we wanted to go out and dominate.”

Perhaps there is an explanation in Becker’s whiteboard. He usually scribbles defensive assignments there. Tonight it carried only a selection of CoachSpeak orders, encouragements, and maxims designed to get his people amped up enough to keep their butts in the game, Such as . . . .


No blahs tonight. “Tonight was a great response from our kids,” Becker said. “They were determined, they were assertive, they played great defense. They had energy and intensity. They were hustling. We’re heading the right direction now.”

Now on a six-game winning streak, Morton is 16-9, 7-4 in the Mid-Illini Conference. Limestone is 8-15, 2-9.

Next up, East Peoria at the Potterdome Tuesday night.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Lamprecht 16, Engel 12, VanMeenen 10, Emilia Miller 6, Graci Junis 5, Izzy Hutchinson 4, Abbey Pollard 3, Julia Laufenberg 1, Kerrigan Vandel 1

“We’ll take the win”

Lady Potters 38

Pekin 27

On my tour of good lunch spots, I stopped today at a favorite place, Jack’s, just off I-155, the Pekin-Tremont exit. I tell you this to delay the game report. Trying something new, I had the “Southwest Chicken Wrap.” It comes with red and green peppers, afloat in a volcanic sauce. I am here to say the thing explodes in you on the way home.

The game?

Well, if I must.

Two nights earlier, on the road against one of the state’s best Class 3A teams, the Potters were heroic, 49-46 over Peoria Notre Dame.

Tonight, not so much.

Before the tipoff, I told a friend in the row behind me, “I have a feeling they’re going to win big tonight, by 20, going away.”

My friend was less optimistic, perhaps more realistic. The Potters have created a mystery season. They’re now 16-9 overall, winners of five straight after losing five straight, dominant on some nights, dormant on others. No one knows which personality will assert itself on which night.

Hearing my happy prediction, the friend asked after my mental well-being: “You feeling all right? Maybe it’s something you ate.”

That’s why I mention the peppers.

As far as I know, though, the Potters ate a decent teenagers’ lunch and had no such culinary excuse for what they did not get done tonight.

They trailed after a quarter, 6-5. They made one field goal.

They led at halftime, 14-11. They had made four more field goals.

Except that it was Pink Night, and it was wonderful to see the Potters had raised $18,500 for Illinois Cancer Care, and it was beautiful to see the Potters in their pink uniforms climbing the bleachers to deliver pink roses to cancer survivors – otherwise, I’d have taken a halftime nap.

Name a way a basketball team plays poorly, the Potters did it against Pekin. They were sloppy with the ball, beaten off the dribble, and gave up too many good looks. It’s not that Pekin is a good team. The Potters won at Pekin six weeks ago, 58-25. In the weeks since, Pekin had lost games by 21, 23, 20, and 26 points. They were 10-12 coming to the Potterdome.

Afterwards, I asked the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, “What was going on?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate this, being that blah.”

Blah, as in a 5-point quarter followed by a 9-point quarter.

Blah, as in being so flat, so uninspired, that the coach could take only 5 minutes and 16 seconds of the listlessness before he walked down the bench and chose five new Potters to replace the five starters.

At that point, Pekin led, 5-2. In 5 minutes and 16 seconds, the Potters had scored two free throws.

The only good stuff came in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Up 14-13, the Potters scored the next 13 points. They did it primarily with a spark from a deep-bench reserve, Kerrigan Vandel, a little junior guard, a transfer from East Peoria. “Kerrigan was our one bright spot tonight,” Becker said. She finished with a game-high 13 points.

Vandel was in that first wave of reserves replacing the starters. Five of her points came in that 13-0 run. She also was a defensive asset, quick enough to harass the Pekin guards from midcourt to the free throw line. Her 3-pointer with 4:58 to play put the Potters up, 32-16, at which point I told my bleacher-bum friend, “See, they might win by 20 yet.”

No, no. As such games do, deterioration set in. Nobody could play. Everybody could foul. Pekin got lucky with a 3-pointer, the Potters’ last six points were free throws, and, finally, thankfully, it was over.

“We’ll take the win,” Becker said. Then he implied a coach’s frustration by asking a question and answering it. “How did we beat Notre Dame? We didn’t beat Notre Dame by showing up with a lack of intensity or a lack of effort or focus. We beat them because we showed up completely all-in. The energy, the effort, the intensity were all there. . . . Somehow we have to find a way to keep growing consistency.”

Told you lunch. Dinner at McDonald’s, $9.15 at the first window. Driving east of I-74 when the first slice of tomato slid onto my shirt. No peppers, though.

Saturday night the Potters play Limestone, an 8-14 team they defeated 65-55 a month ago. Becker said he’s worried. Should be.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Vandel 13 (“I’m happy, very happy,” she said.) Addy Engel 12, Ellie VanMeenen 5, Izzy Hutchinson 4, Graci Junis 2, Tatym Lamprecht 2.

“What a great win”

Lady Potters 49

Peoria Notre Dame 46

“To be where we were,” Bob Becker said, meaning lost and wandering a month ago, “and to be where we are now,” meaning laughter and dancing in the locker room, “these kids are a FORCE! This was FUN! There’s some mojo going on. There’s belief going on in our locker room. These kids will not be afraid to play anybody now.”

Four straight victories now, three over teams that came in 17-5, 19-5, and, tonight, Peoria Notre Dame, 19-2 and ranked #7 in Class 3A.

“What a great win . . .”

I had the tape recorder going. I’m a practiced note-taker, a hundred years at it, but when a coach’s team wins four straight over good teams after losing five straight to mostly stiffs, I cannot keep up with the quotes tumbling out. So let’s go to the tape . . ..

“What a great win on the road…”

They came to Notre Dame’s bandbox of a gym, the benches on one side against a concrete block wall, 11 rows of bleachers on the other, balconies on the end with no seats.

“ . . . against a quality team . . .”

And those last words reminded Becker of what he wanted to say next, and say it loudly, with italics and exclamation points.

“And we ARE a quality team!”

He took a breath. We stood in a hallway outside his team’s locker room. “You hear them in there!” Sounds of celebration bounced around the corridor. “I love it. NOBODY’s gonna want to play the Potters.”

And he said . . .

“There’s something good boiling in our veins right now.”

They had been down 10 points in the first four minutes. They were down nine late in the second quarter. But they scored the first half’s last eight points to make it 26-25. In the third quarter’s first 30 seconds, they took the lead 28-26 on an Ellie VanMeenen 3-pointer. And when VanMeenen threw in another 3, it gave Morton a 37-34 lead with 23 seconds left in third quarter.

From there on, the Potters never trailed. Neither team saw defeat as possible and kept clawing back from deficits. So let’s cut to the chase.

It was 46-all with 19.8 seconds to play.

The Potters’ junior guard, Izzy Hutchinson, was at the free throw line. Of Hutchinson’s many, many, many virtues – no one doubt her ball-handling skills, defensive savvy, and endless willingness, even eagerness, to hurl her body every which way in in pursuit of loose balls – despite her many, many, many virtues, no one ever thought of her as Steph Curry at the line.

So what does Isabella Hutchinson do?

Her first free throw rattles the rim. The ball hits the front of the rim in a way that makes the iron rattle against its glass connection. A fellow wearing hearing aids can hear the rattle from three rows up in the bleachers. It’s the distressing sound of the ball rattling the iron – until, blessed silence, the balls falls into net.

Morton up, 47-46.

Izzy’s second free throw also is a rattler. Only this time it rolls to the back of the hoop, onto that little island of iron attached to the backboard. Maybe you’ve seen balls roll back there and just sit there. Not Izzy’s. It rattles and it rolls and it circles the iron until, praise be, it too falls in.

Morton, 48-46.

And Izzy Hutchinson, in a frantic fourth quarter during which Peoria Notre Dame refused to lose, Izzy Hutchinson, who had not shot a free throw in the game’s first 30 minutes, made 5 of 6 free throws in the last 2 minutes and 8 seconds when it had to be done.

Free throw shooting, I submit, is the newest of her many, many virtues.

Notre Dame had one last shot, an unanswered prayer, and Tatym Lamprecht closed the deal with a free throw at :01.6.

Whatever’s going on – whatever’s “boiling” in these Potters, now 15-9 for the season – Ellie VanMeenen could only laugh tonight. “This was really, really, really fun,” she said. “We’re really clicking as a team.”

Addy Engel, the Potters’ indefatigable rebounder, said, “We’re really playing together more. We’re pursuing the ball. We’re the first ones on the ground. That ball is OURS.”

Lamprecht said, “We believe in ourselves now. We’re the best team.”

Morton’s scoring tonight: VanMeenen 14, Engel 12, Hutchinson 9, Graci Junis 6, Lamprecht 6, Julia Laufenberg 2.

“Did this happen? This is crazy.”

Lady Potters 41

Galesburg 38

What we know for sure is all that matters, and what we know for sure is that the sophomore Ellie VanMeenen made the game’s last shot as the clock went to all zeroes, :00.0, her shot a lovely 3-pointer from 2 o’clock on the arc, swish, no iron, a pure thing giving the suddenly alive Potters a third straight victory after a couple weeks in a quarantine of defeat.

But how did the ball wind up in Ellie VanMeenen’s hands outside the arc when it had not been there all day long?

The truth is, I have no idea.

All I know is that at 38-all with about 30 seconds to play, a Galesburg girl threw up a shot backwards, an awkward prayer that deserved no answer. Then came a mad scramble for the loose ball with bodies flying every which way in collisions and entanglements that only teenagers could survive without multiple orthopedic injuries.

So, more truth here, damned if I know how Morton came up with the ball, and my excuse is that the infernal noise machine of the Galesburg pep band six rows behind me was so loud I couldn’t see. Many things happened, and there were 12.8 seconds to play, and here came Tatym Lamprecht with the ball, and the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, stood at the bench, thinking of a timeout but deciding to let affairs settle themselves.

Somehow Lamprecht got the ball to Izzy Hutchinson on the right side, and numbers were falling off the clock, :07, :06, :05, and Izzy did a two-hands soccer pass – they call it a “skip” – over everybody to the far side, having seen Ellie open, Ellie all alone there, and the best I can do is have Ellie tell it.

“Nobody was guarding me,” she said, “because either they were in help (on the other side) or they just weren’t guarding me.”

No reason to guard her because she had not taken a 3-point shot all day, and maybe no one in Galesburg knew she had Morton’s best 3-point shooting percentage as a freshman (36.6), and maybe Galesburg figured that once the ball was out of Lamprecht’s hands (she had made three 3’s), what’s to worry about a sophomore non-shooter on the other side of the court?

“Well,” Ellie said, “there were about two seconds left, I thought . . .”

She thought just shoot it?

“Yeah,” she explained.

Bob Becker also explained it: “I thought in those last 12 seconds we could have done a better job attacking, but, thankfully, we skipped it to the weak side and Ellie had the awareness to catch and shoot. It was a great rhythm 3 for her. A great pass on target by Izzy, and what an heroic play for Ellie, and what a crazy, exciting finish.”

Here’s what Ellie VanMeenen thought as the 3 set off a celebration, every Potter on the floor and off the bench racing to her: “Did this happen? This is crazy.”

Even as VanMeenen spoke, Lamprecht, the team’s star 3-point shooter, chimed in. “Ellie’s the shoot-ah,” Tatym said, italics on the last syllable. “I knew the shoot-ah was going to make it. Nothing better could have happened today. I feel the one missing piece that we had to get for our team was to get Ellie’s confidence back. After this game, it’s back. She’s the shoot-ah.”

This was, to get technical about it, a raggedy-ass game. Lovers of tenacious defense might have been thrilled. It was 12-7, Morton, after a quarter and 16-11 at halftime. Midway through the third, led by Lamprecht’s pair of 3’s (fouled on one, she added a free throw for 4 points), Morton had an 11-point lead. But in two minutes, Galesburg went on an 11-0 run to get to 28-all and set the stage for a fourth quarter turned into a frantic, frenzied mess by Galesburg’s full-court press.

Galesburg took its only lead of the game at 34-33 with 6:19 to play.

Addy Engel’s driving layup-and-one put Morton up, 36-34, at 4:11, and she reprised the drive for a 38-36 lead at 2:58.

Galesburg tied it on two free throws with 1:47 to play.

Nobody could get anything done after that – until the ball found its way into Ellie VanMeenen’s hands.

“We were a little sluggish,” Becker said afterwards. The game started at 1 p.m., about a night’s sleep after the Potters’ Friday night victory over Metamora. “But we found a way. We didn’t do a lot of things well. We just didn’t have the laser focus. But we overcame that and got a win. Now the challenge is to stay driven, keep improving. We still have a month to play.”

A “month to play,” said the coach whose regular season ends in two weeks. Then comes the regionals and another two weeks leading to the Final Four at Redbird Arena (or whatever commercial name the place goes by now).

Twice in a week now, Morton, 14-9 and ranked #26 in the MaxPreps Class 3A ratings, has defeated teams ranked in the top 20. First it was Mahomet-Seymour, 17-5, #17. Now, Galesburg, 19-5, #20.

Next comes Peoria Notre Dame, 19-2 and #5. That game, scheduled for Monday, has been moved to Wednesday at Notre Dame.

Morton’s scoring today: Engel 15, Lamprecht 13, Hutchinson 7, VanMeenen 5, Julia Laufenberg 1.

“Playing loose and free”

Lady Potters 63

Metamora 35

Something’s happening here, and it’s good, and it’s fun, and these basketball born-agains, the Potters who had lost five in a row, now have won three in a row and have created the streak in the best way, by playing better each time out and doing things that cause the coach, Bob Becker, to get right up next to schoolboy giddy and almost say things tonight that he really wants to say but knows he has to wait, and the words come tumbling out . . .

“I went and saw Notre Dame and Peoria Central last night . . .”

Two of the top five teams in Class 3A, teams likely in the same regional with Morton when the state tournaments begin next month, teams capable of winning a state championship that Morton has won four times in the last seven seasons.

“And I’m believing more and more . . . ”

Wait for it.

“Nothing’s going to be easy . . . ”


“I’m not making any guarantees . . . ”


“But I’m more confident now that our team is going to be more prepared and ready now because of how they’re thinking about each other. Look, they’re having fun. There’s smiles. They’re playing loose and free.”

This one was over early in the third quarter. Up by six at halftime, the Potters went on an 15-5 run that opened with a Tatym Lamprecht 3 from the left side and ended with a Graci Junis put-back of a rebound she stole from the hands of lesser jumpers. Again, as in a rout of Mahomet-Seymour earlier in the week, the Potters’ defense was as efficient as the offense, Becker suddenly a devotee of the 2-3 zone defense. (“I credit my dad,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “He asked if I’d tried it.”)

Best of all, once the issue was not in doubt, the Potters got better. They went on a 19-2 run in four minutes of the fourth quarter – a Lamprecht 3 followed by her breakaway layup off an Izzy Hutchinson steal . . . an Addy Engel drive in the paint followed by a mid-range jumper . . . an Izzy breakaway of her own . . . a Junis mid-range jumper . . . a Hutchinson drive, an Ellie VanMeenen drive, and a layup by Kerrigan Vandel – suddenly, it was 59-30.

But wait.

All this was good.

But you should have seen this.

“I wanted to run out there and high-five her,” Bob Becker said of a moment only four minutes into the game when he saw . . .

Metamora has this one really good player, strong and aggressive; in football, she’d be a cornerback seeking contact. So here comes a rebound her way and as she goes up for the ball, so does Graci Junis.

Graci, a volleyball star, never a cornerback.

But this time, four minutes into the game, the Metamora girl has the rebound until Graci wants it, and here’s what Graci does. She rips it out of the cornerback’s hands, and she does it with a snarl, or at least enough of it’s-my-damned-ball that Bob Becker, his sport coat flapping, runs three steps onto the court in celebration of what he has just seen, which he described as . . .

“That #23, who is a beast physically, and Graci, who has not always been a beast . . .”

I say, “And Graci ripped it out of her hands.”


He went on. “An aggressive Graci Junis? Instead of a wet noodle? I LOVE IT!”

The Potters loved the whole thing.

Junis: “The dynamic of the team has totally changed. We were so into our heads, thinking, thinking. Not tonight. Fun.”

Lamprecht: “Everyone’s really confident now and trusting each other. This is the best I’ve seen all season.”

Engel: “Coach has been talking about having an unwavering belief in ourselves, and I think we finally have that.”

Hutchinson: “This will continue on.”

The Potters, now 13-9 for the season and 5-4 in the Mid-Illini, play at Galesburg (19-5) Saturday afternoon. Metamora is 14-8, 5-4.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Lamprecht 18 (with four 3’s), Engel 16, Hutchinson 9, Junis 8, VanMeenen 6, Abbey Pollard 4, Vandel 2.

“Music sweet at last”

Lady Potters 47

Mahomet-Seymour 23

This one was a song sung in sweet harmony. The Potters’ 2-3 zone kept Mahomet-Seymour on the outside failing to get into the paint. With the ball, the Potters were, for once, five people moving freely, creating space, delivering passes only where the ball’s next stop is the bottom of the net. It was enough to make a guy think of a song the darling Maria sang in West Side Story . . .

I feel pretty
Oh, so pretty
I feel pretty, and witty, and bright
And I feel pity
For any girl who isn’t me tonight

Here I beg forgiveness from hoops junkies for lapsing into kitschy Broadway sentiment, but really, if you, like the Potters, had endured only misery in 2023, you, too, might have been as happy as Graci Junis, a Potter who did good work off the bench tonight and, to the surprise of many, perhaps including Graci, threw in a 3-pointer from the low left corner late in the third quarter.

You may well ask how happy Graci was when I reminded her, “And you made a 3.”

She said, “YES! I DID!” And her face rearranged itself into the prettiest, wittiest, and brightest face for miles around.

“How’d that happen?” I said.


About time for unknowable good things to happen for the Potters. This miserable patch had reached five straight losses, six in seven games, the program’s longest such stretch during a decade in which it won four state championships. Only the most optimistic of observers drove east on I-74 tonight expecting the Potters, at 11-9 for the season, to have an easy time of it against a 17-5 team ranked in Class 3A’s top 20.

But an easy time it was, 12-3 after a quarter, 22-7 at the half, and Graci’s 3 made it 34-10 after three. This was a Mahomet-Seymour team averaging nearly 50 points a game. It scored one field goal in each of the first three quarters, and those were 3-pointers because it could find no way inside against Morton’s hustling, aggressive defenders. It didn’t score in the paint for the first 27 minutes.

Meanwhile, as in games early this season but not so much lately, Morton’s offense moved so smoothly that 12 of its 17 field goals came inside, the result of full-out attacks at the rim and the occasional steal and breakaway layup.

“I was happy for the kids,” Bob Becker, the Potters’ coach, said. “I was proud. Lesser kids, lesser teams, considering the trials and tribulations we’ve been going through – maybe without the persistence and the perseverance, the never-give-up, some lesser people might have gone, ‘Oh, man . . . ’”

“We’re all just tired of losing,” Tatym Lamprecht said.

“We played more together,” Julia Laufenberg said.

“More of a team having fun, everyone enjoying it, and a lot of players got their confidence back,” Izzy Hutchinson said.

“We were diving on the floor, we were hustling to get rebounds, we were having fun,” Ellie VanMeenen said.

I asked, when did the fun begin?

“After the first quarter I saw the score,” she said, and the score was Guests 12, Home 3, and she recalled memories of misery not yet wiped out, “Like, ‘Wow, that used to be us.’”

Three nights earlier, the Potters’ bus ride home from a Canton misery took them down ghostly Route 24. Tonight they came home on I-74, a wonder of 20th century engineering. Near Farmer City, they passed that skyscraper with the DeKalb corn sign lit up. They crossed the mighty Kickapoo Creek where, a long time ago, my Dad dropped his hammer into the creek, fell in after it, and lived to say, “Both of us swam like a rock.” I laughed when he told that story and I laughed tonight.

The Potters’ next game: Friday night, Metamora, at the Potterdome.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Addy Engel 16 (with two 3’s), Hutchinson 11 (and eight rebounds), Lamprecht 10 (two 3’s and eight steals), Julia Laufenberg 3, Junis that smiling 3, VanMeenen 2, and Annelise Heppe 2.

“We’re searching”

Canton 47

Lady Potters 38

A long time ago, I took a football coaching class at Illinois Wesleyan. For a term paper I designed the offense of my dreams. It would be all passes. I believed that only knuckle-dragging Neanderthals bought into three yards and a cloud of dust. We would fill the sky with pigskin. My quarterback would be a combination of Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas. (Kids, look ‘em up.)

Later, I even liked those college basketball teams that did nothing but shoot 3’s. See the rim, fling the thing. Get a rebound, do it again. Defense? Who needs defense? Just give me the ball back, we’ll shoot it again. Run five subs in at once, let ‘em run helter-skelter for 90 seconds, bring in five new ones. Yeah, we might lose 143-113, but if enough of our running prayers fall in, we might win 160-98.

These are the thoughts, of course, of a man given to delusions of offense after seeing the Potters score one point in tonight’s second quarter as they fell behind at halftime, 21-9, and never got it into single-digits until the last three seconds.

They’re also the thoughts of a man who just drove back from Canton in the dark of night on that gawdawful Route 24 past swamps, stinkin’ chemical plants, and ghostly concrete towers that are probably home to creepy crawlies extinct in civilized parts of the world.

Yeah, I’m no good tonight. Back in Morton, I stopped at McDonald’s. It was 9:03 p.m. At 9:07 I said, “Deluxe crispy chicken sandwich, Diet Coke.” A voice said, “$7.27 at the second window.” At 9:11, I was the fifth car in line. At 9:17, I had not moved an inch. At 9:18, I put it in reverse, backed up a foot, pulled around the line of cars, and left for I-74 and home. Let the second window figure out what happened to the $7.27 guy.

Yeah, not in a good mood.

Still ticked about that flagrant-foul call on Izzy Hutchinson. It was not a big play in the game. But the Potters still had a hint of hope. They were 14 down when Izzy’s pestiferous defense caused a jump ball near midcourt with three minutes to play. Wrestling for possession, the Canton girl spun loose from Izzy’s grip and fell down, at which point an incompetent in a striped shirt blew a whistle.

“I let go of her,” Izzy said, meaning the Canton spinning girl, “because I thought I might get a foul.”

When she looked at the referee, she saw he had his arms crossed in an X above his head, the signal for a flagrant foul.

Now, I have seen flagrant fouls. They’re flagrant, as in intentionally delivered in a way that might cause injury. This was not that. This was a tug of war for possession that ended with the weaker girl losing her balance.

The call had nothing to do with who won or lost. It just moved Canton to 16 up with 3:09 left.

But still. When you’ve lost five or your last six games, as the Potters have, it’s never a morale boost to be on the wrong end of a referee’s two-point mistake in the last three minutes of a game you might still have a chance to win. In those last three minutes, running loose, the Potters outscored Canton 14-7.

“I feel for our kids, they’re reeling,” the Morton coach, Bob Becker, said. “We’re trying, we’re searching. We’re having to find answers. Right now it’s obviously a struggle.”

Morton is now 11-9 for the season, 4-4 in the Mid-Illini. Canton is 11-9 and 3-4.

Morton’s scoring tonight: Hutchinson 17 (“Izzy played her heart out,” Becker said.) Tatym Lamprecht 11, Addy Engel 4, Ellie VanMeenen 3, Abbey Pollard 3

‘Music? A bright spot?‘

Washington 48

Lady Potters 25

Always, the worst part of the Potters playing at Washington has been that pep band’s all-brass-and-drums murder of music at halftime. They call it music. I’m a musical illiterate. My grade school music teacher heard my audition for a part in an operetta. She winced. She said, “David, you will RECITE your part.” So there is that, and anything I say about music is not to be taken seriously.

Besides, there was that cute Washington mother who came to sit near me when that pep band started. She wanted to take pictures as her son, Jackson, hammered away on a big ol’ drum. She was proud, and she asked if I heard that song the band did.

I said, “Song?”

I had heard an F-14’s jet engine at full thunder.


“Sweet Caroline,” the drummer’s mom said.

“Great,” I said, not the first lie I ever told a cute blonde.

Anyway, the way it went tonight, the way that pep band played its music was a relief from the way the Lady Potters played their basketball that first half.

It was 27-7 at halftime. At least eight times, by my count, the Potters did not finish on opportunities not only in the paint but point-blank at the rim.

“MOVE THE BALL!” the coach, Bob Becker, said more than a few times, seldom to any great effect. For somehow the Potters contrived to extend their miserable no-offense-of-any-kind streak. They came to Washington off the last two quarters against Dunlap in which they scored 3 and 6. They began tonight with quarters of 2 and 5. In their last four quarters, then, they had been outscored, 59-16.

Clearly, they would lose tonight for the fifth time in six games. Their season record would fall to 11-8 and 4-3 in the Mid-Illini Conference. It’s no shame to lose to a team that is now 16-2, undefeated in seven M-I games, and ranked #4 among the state’s Class 3A teams – all true of Washington. But to be down 20 at halftime with no suggestions of a comeback – that’s enough to cause Bob Becker to do, y’know, something.

So he benched three of his season-long starters. They did not play one second in the 16 minutes of the second half. Early in the fourth quarter, against a very good Washington team, Becker’s five players were reserves seldom heard from all season (two had played in the jayvee game).

Yet those Deep Benchers had scored 10 points in the third quarter, which amounted to an offensive explosion.

“The second half,” Becker said, “I thought was a bright spot.”

A bright spot?

“We competed the second half and lost it by three,” he said. (Washington 21-18 in that half.) “And the kids were coachable and fun to coach.” He praised the “competitive effort of the kids who played the second half. I loved there was no give-up, no quit.”

In all that, of course, there was a message to the starters consigned to the bench in the second half.

“The only thing I can control sometimes is that bench, that’s it,” Becker said.

The Potters have 10 regular-season games to play before regionals start in early February.

“I’m committed to finding a way and building this last month,” the coach said. “Every game from here on, we have to be the scrappiest, most hard-nosed team, and we have to do it 32 minutes every night.”

Morton’s scoring tonight: Anja Ruxlow 6, Emilia Miller 6, Abbey Pollard 5, Izzy Hutchinson 3, Magda Lopko 3, Julia Laufenberg 2.

“Gotta do some soul-searching”

Dunlap 59

Lady Potters 38

The good news: When Tatym Lamprecht threw in her fourth 3-pointer and Ellie VanMeenen followed with a banked-in 3 from the top of the key and Addy Engel added a free throw, the Potters led at halttime, 29-27.

After that, nothing but bad news.

Third quarter, the Potters scored three points.

Fourth quarter, six points.

Outscored in the second half, 32-9.

By Dunlap. Dunlap is a good team in these parts, 14-3 overall, maybe the second-best team in the Mid-Illini Conference. But c’mon. It’s Dunlap. Dunlap is not a great team. Dunlap does not take your heart out and stomp that sucker flat.

But Dunlap scored the first 13 points of the third quarter and then, after a Lamprecht free throw, it scored six more. It outscored Morton in the third, 22-3.

Somewhere in there, Morton called timeout. For the longest time in that timeout – and time moves slowly in such dismal situations – the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, must have set a record for silence. He crouched in front of his team and said nothing. Finally, he spoke softly. And whatever he said, it did not end the night’s mysteries.

“I asked them in the locker room afterwards, ‘What happened in the second half?’” he said.

Lamprecht got one shot in the second half, a futile fling on a drive into traffic. The Potters’ only field goal, other than two late layups, was a 12-footer by Graci Junis in the third quarter; by then, the Potters’ offense was a stuttering mess of weak passes and uncertain movement.

As in three or four games lately, the Potters played as well as possible for a while – that first half – followed by an extended time in which they played as poorly as possible. They have now lost four of their last five games and are 11-7 overall.

“Dunlap came out with more intensity in the third quarter,” Becker said. In those poor stretches, the coach said, “The opponent is playing harder, tougher, scrappier, mentally and physically, than we are. We gotta do some soul-searching.”

Morton’s scoring tonight: Lamprecht 17, Engel 10, Izzy Hutchinson 4, VanMeenen 3, Junis 2, Ruby Brubaker 2.

“We gotta find a way”

Peoria High 56

Lady Potters 38

From a distance, this one promised to be trouble. Up close, it was.

Peoria High came to the Potterdome tonight on an eight-game winning streak that made its season record 14-2 and moved it to #7 in the state’s latest Class 3A poll. Meechie Edwards, the Lions’ coach, was in full-throated roar, as always, and his team found its own authoritative voice with a 12-0 run in three minutes of the fourth quarter that ended any thoughts the Potters had of an upset.

Down by 12 entering the fourth, and despite making only 5 of 12 free throws to that point, Morton trailed only 35-28 with 6:11 to play. Then Peoria sprinted away on a 15-footer, another from there, a layup, a 3-pointer, and a layup-and-one for the killing dozen points. Truth is, the Lions hardly needed those points; their defense, quick and relentlessly aggressive, already had harassed/trapped/frightened Morton into so many turnovers (19 at that point) that I quit counting.

It was almost fun for a half. Only a 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Peoria a 20-17 halftime lead. I can’t say it was ever truly fun because even in a three-point game the Lions were always dominant. They showed it in the third quarter. That suffocating, ball-hawking defense forced the Potters into nine turnovers in the quarter. Four 3’s helped them win the quarter, 14-5. After that, the issue was never really in doubt.

Now, here’s a sentence often typed in the last 12 seasons: One team was clearly better than the other. Of course, in days past, that “one team” was always Morton. But not tonight. Not when Peoria made 10 3’s (to Morton’s 3), dominated the paint, never let the Potters breathe on offense, and won going away.

“They’re definitely a better team right now,” the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, said. “They’re difficult to guard. They’re skilled at a lot of spots. It’s not just one or two kids.”

The Potters are now 11-6, losers in three of their last four games, and their schedule offers little respite. Friday in the Potterdome they play Dunlap, with whom they share second place in the Mid-Illini Conference at 4-1 (13-3 overall). A week from tonight they go to league-leading Washington, another of Class 3A’s top-10 teams.

All this with an offense going nowhere. In the Potters last three losses, they have had quarters in which they scored 7, 5, 6, 6, and 5 points while losing by 5, 10, and tonight’s 18.

“So we gotta find a way,” Becker said. “It may not be exciting, but maybe we gotta play games in the 30’s.”

Morton’s scoring tonight: Tatym Lamprecht 16 (with all the team’s 3’s), Izzy Hutchinson 8, Addy Engel 8, and two apiece from Julia Laufenberg, Ellie VanMeenen, and Graci Junis.


Geneseo 44
Lady Potters 34

I walk in the house about 10 o’clock tonight and there’s Casey, my cat, who is curious.

“How’d it go?” she says.

“Can you believe it, Casey, it’s 57 degrees outside. The snow has all melted. Suddenly, we’re Florida.”

Casey says, “Meow.”

Meaning I should fetch her a can of salmon.

She says, “Not salmon again.”

Casey is finicky. I was forever a dog person until Casey showed up. For Christmas my sister dear, Sandy, gave me a T-shirt with a legend: “This human belongs to Casey.” So I do what Casey wants me to do.

I drop the salmon and get tuna. She purrs. She says, “You said you were going to a basketball game.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I say.

“Now who’s finicky?” she says.

So I tell her what happened in the Bloomington High School gym in the fifth-place game of the State Farm Holiday Classic.

“Geneseo showed up, and Morton didn’t,” I say.

“No game then?”


“So, where have you been the last three hours?”

I say, “Casey, Casey. Do you know what curiosity did to the cat?”

“Don’t bring that weak stuff in here,” she says. “I know ‘curiosity killed the cat.’ I also know the quote goes on to say, ‘But satisfaction brought it back.’ So, satisfy me with a report on the silly game you humans play in the winter.”

(Who knew that Casey can operate the Google machine and trace the origin of ancient lines?)

I tell Casey I talked to the Potters’ coach afterwards. I tell her that Bob Becker said, ‘I haven’t been this disappointed in a long time.’ It wasn’t like losing a perfect season and a state championship on the last shot to Chicago Simeon. That was “heartbreaking.” This was different. ‘Tonight was very poor.’ He said, ‘I gotta get better, I gotta be a better coach and a better leader, and we gotta get better.’’’

I asked Casey, “You ever heard of Joe Paterno?”

“A cat person?” she says.

“A football coach. He lost a big game once. Somebody told him he shouldn’t take it so hard. He said, ‘If a carpenter builds a house and it falls down, he’s supposed to be OK with that?’ That’s what Becker was saying.”

“Becker’s team fell down?”

“Casey, do a dog thing. Open the fridge, fetch me a beer.”

Here’s Morton’s scoring tonight:

Tatym Lamprecht 15, Addy Engel 7, Graci Junis 4, Izzy Hutchinson 3, Ruby Brubaker 3, Magda Lopko 2.