What does a 21-4 record, two tournament titles and a second-place finish in a conference featuring the top-ranked 2A team in the state get you in the opening round of the postseason?
A matchup against a sub-.500 would seem to be the obvious answer.
But it’s not in bizzaro world.
And, unfortunately, the IHSA has set up permanent residence there.
In a decision that would seem inconceivable if not for its source, the IHSA saw it fit to pair the Vandalia girls basketball team (21-4) against a very good St. Anthony Bulldogs squad (18-9) in the second semifinal of the Lady Vandals’ own Class 2A regional.
Gametime between the third- and fifth-seeded teams in sub-section A of the St. Anthony Sectional is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at VCHS.
Just up the road, the fourth-seeded Flora Wolfgals – a team the Lady Vandals have beaten – will be playing in the title game of the Pana Regional two nights after drawing eighth-seeded Macon Meridian (11-15) in their semifinal game. Flora rolled to victory in that game, 55-27.
So, in summary, the No. 3 seed gets the No. 5 seed at one regional. The No. 4 seed gets the No. 8 at another.
That does not make sense.
‘The thing that bothers me most is the inconsistency,’ said VCHS coach Mike Butler, noting that no similar scenario plays out in any of the other Class 2A sectional brackets concocted by the IHSA. ‘…I think it’s very unfair to us and St. Anthony.’
Granted, the No. 1 ranked team in the state will be awaiting Flora in the title game at Pana.
But, if they are fortunate enough to get by St. Anthony, the Lady Vandals won’t exactly be facing a bunch of upstarts.
Their reward will be Teutopolis (26-4), currently ranked 10th in Class 2A, and widely considered the best small-school girls program in the state’s history.
There’s really no getting around it: The Lady Vandals got a raw deal.
The IHSA’s alleged reasoning for creating a four-class system was to provide more quality small-school teams an opportunity to take in the state-tournament experience.
Instead, the already cumbersome process of doling out postseason assignments, pairings and seedings has been further complicated.
Cockamamie outcomes such as the one detailed above often ensue.
And who winds up paying for this madness? On Thursday night at VCHS, it will be a quality team – either St. Anthony or Vandalia – that has no business going one-and-done in the postseason.
The Lady Vandals are aware of this injustice. But to their credit, they’ve chosen not to focus on it.
‘I think we’re approaching it the right way,’ Butler said. ‘The kids have been very positive all year long.
‘They know (St. Anthony) will be a tough game to start off with, but we’ve faced some good teams this year, so we’ll just have to be ready to play.’
Here is a closer look at the Lady Vandals’ semifinal opponent.
St. Anthony decided to start its varsity program four years ago in anticipation that a talented eighth-grade class could make a big splash at the high school level.
It turned out to be a wise decision.
That eighth-grade class has matured into a core of six seniors that has led the Lady Bulldogs to their second-straight 18-win season.
Leading that group is 5-foot-8 forward Jaclyn Jansen. A fine all-around athlete (she won a Class A golf state title in the fall), Jansen is the Lady Bulldogs’ leading scorer at just under 15 points per game.
Versatility and consistency are two of Jansen’s biggest assets. A threat from inside and outside, she has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. She is also a top-notch rebounder and defender.
Jansen has connected on 28 3-pointers this season, but she is just one of St. Anthony’s many long-range threats. Kathryn Koester, a 5-5 senior guard, leads St. Anthony with 36 3-pointers.
Butler compares the Lady Bulldogs to Flora, another team that fires up 3-pointers at will. Fortunately, Vandalia had pretty good luck shutting down the Wolfgals outside shooters in the championship game of the Mattoon Tournament, holding them to 3 of 12 shooting from beyond the arc. And despite playing almost exclusively zone, VCHS has guarded the 3-point shot well most of the year.
‘We’ll just have to do that again,’ said Butler, who has seen St. Anthony play three times this year. ‘We’ll just have to know where their shooters are.’
The two teams have had a number of common opponents this season.
Like Vandalia, St. Anthony has beaten Flora, South Central and Cowden-Herrick and Neoga (twice). Neoga recently beat the Lady Bulldogs, 50-32, but St. Anthony was playing without Jansen in that contest.
The Lady Bulldogs enter regional play winners of five straight. They have averaged 74 points per game in their last three wins.
The winner will almost certainly face T-Town, a program that has won 16 straight regional titles. Here is a closer look at the Wooden Shoes.
A couple things have changed for in Wooden Shoes land this year.
Traditionally a post-oriented team, T-Town is much more guard-oriented this season. The Lady Shoes have also looked to score more in transition.
A few have remained the same, however: They still win a lot of games; they’ll enter the championship game with a 26-4 record. And the Lady Shoes still play great defense.
Case-in-point: St. Anthony combined to score just 50 points in a pair of lopsided losses to the Lady Shoes this year.
‘Their strong point is probably defense,’ Butler said. ‘They still play great man-to-man pressure defense, so we’ll have to handle that.’
Heather Pruemer, a 5-11 senior, is the Lady Shoes’ top scorer and rebounder, with averages of 15 ppg and 9 rpg. She recently came back from a serious thumb injury.
Senior guard Nicole Runde is T-Town’s top perimeter threat, averaging over 12 ppg.
Both players are excellent free-throw shooters, as Runde has hit over 90 percent from the charity stripe, while Pruemer is shooting 88 percent.
Should they advance to the championship, the Lady Vandals can take comfort in knowing Flora handed T-Town a lopsided defeat (46-29).
Home-court advantage should be a big plus for Vandalia as well.
‘I think they realize that’s a big advantage,’ Butler said. ‘We hope we get a good turnout of fan support here.’
The Lady Vandals will be looking to shake off some rust after a 10-day layoff between games. Friday’s scheduled regular-season finale at Altamont was snowed out.
‘We were kind of looking forward to that game, but that’s one of those things you can’t control,’ Butler said. ‘We’re only going to worry about things we can control.’
And when you’re dealing with anything the IHSA has control over, that is really the only approach one can take.