More so than his team’s school-record 22 victories.
More so than the two tournament championship trophies the Lady Vandals added to the VCHS trophy case.
What will bring a smile to longtime coach Mike Butler’s face when he looks back on the 2007-08 season will be the way his team went about putting together a historic season – not necessarily the Lady Vandals many accomplishments themselves.
‘The thing I liked was that we just battled every night,’ Butler said. ‘I think anyone that played us this year walked away with respect for this team.
‘That’s important to me.’
Friday night was no exception, as the Lady Vandals battled a storied Teutopolis program in the championship of their own Class 2A regional.
‘Our kids played hard until the very end,’ Butler said. ‘That’s all you can ask.’
That fact considered, even more respect has to be given to the Lady Shoes – a difficult task considering they stopped the Lady Vandals one win shy of their first regional title since 1993, doing so with clinical precision.
T-Town cruised to its 17th consecutive regional championship, rolling to a 55-41 victory, by doing what few teams have done before against Vandalia.
The Lady Shoes put the ball in the basket frequently and efficiently.
They shot a blistering 58 percent from the floor (19 of 33) and 93 percent from the foul line (13 of 14) against a VCHS team that had allowed just 34 points per game for the year.
They committed just 12 turnovers, a relatively low cough-up rate against a Lady Vandals team that has routinely forced 20-plus turnovers during the regular season.
It all added up to a heartbreaking career finale for seniors Julianna Banal and Emily Shields. But the Lady Vandals’ effort was not to blame.
‘I thought the kids played hard, and our defense was good,’ Butler said. ‘We made them work for open shots. Nothing came easy for them.’
Still, T-Town continually found ways to put the ball in the hole.
In the first half, it was shots from beyond the arc that stood out, as as a Mindy Wendt 3-pointer gave the Lady Shoes the lead for good, 11-8, late in the first quarter.
T-Town would extend to a seven-point lead early in the second quarter, as Vandalia struggled to get into a comfort zone against a long and athletic army of pressure defenders.
‘We knew their pressure defense would be tough,’ Butler said. ‘It got us a little rattled early on.’
Still, a 5-0 spurt capped by a Shelby Cearlock steal and fast break had the scrappy Lady Vandals trailing by just two, 17-15, early in the second quarter.
But Kristin Runde countered with another 3-pointer, kicking off an 8-2 T-Town run that had the Lady Shoes up by eight points midway through the second period.
The Lady Vandals managed to whittle the margin down to just five points just before halftime, but Runde gave T-Town momentum going into the locker room with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from NBA distance just before the halftime buzzer.
The Lady Shoes’ success beyond the arc forced Vandalia to come out and guard the visiting team’s perimeter shooters in the second half.
T-Town countered by getting the ball inside to Heather Pruemer.
As a result, T-Town quickly extended a 30-22 halftime lead to double digits with a 7-0 run to start the second half.
The Lady Vandals never managed to get T-Town’s lead under double digits the rest of the way, as the Lady Shoes completed their annual regional-title winning ritual with robotic efficiency.
But to the Lady Vandals credit, they never deviated from the hard-nosed style that produced one of the best seasons in program history, even though it was clear one of the best seasons in program history was coming to an end.
‘It would have been easy to get down and give up,’ Butler said. ‘Our kids never did that.’
Despite the disappointing finale, the Lady Vandals have much to be proud of this year – and much to look forward to next season.
Highlights of the 07-08 season included tournament championships at Mattoon and Sandoval, and a second-place finish to No. 1-ranked Pana (Class 2A) in the SCC-East.
The Lady Vandals’ five losses came to a defending state champ (Breese Central), a five-time state champion (T-Town), a potential state champ (Pana, twice) and an overtime setback to a solid Class 3A program (Marion).
‘You look at every loss, and it was against a quality team,’ Butler said. ‘I hope we can learn from that and come back a little better next year.’
And despite the coming graduation of Banal and Shields, plenty of key components will be back.
Amanda Walton, Laura Hobbie, Shelby Cearlock and Cassie Warner will return to the starting lineup, and Kayla Houston and Ashley Durbin will be back after filling key reserve roles.
Vandalia 10 12 8 11 – 41
T-Town 15 15 11 14 – 55
Vandalia scoring – Walton 3-7 1-1 7, Cearlock 6-8 2-4 15, Hobbie 4-7 0-0 8, Banal 1-3 2-2 4, Warner 2-5 2-2 6, Shields 0-0 1-2 1, Durbin 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 16-31 8-12 41.
T-Town scoring – N. Runde 7-10 3-4 17, K. Runde 4-6 4-4 15, Wendt 1-4 0-0 3, Heuerman 2-3 0-0 4, H. Pruemer 4-7 4-4 12, Kroeger 0-1 0-0 0, Niebrugge 1-1 2-2 4, L. Pruemer 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-33 13-14 55.
3-point goals – Vandalia 1-4 (Cearlock 1-2, Warner 0-1, Durbin 0-1), T-Town 4-9 (K. Runde 3-3, N. Runde 0-2, Wendt 1-4). Rebounds – Vandalia 10 (Hobbie 3, Banal 3), T-Town 15 (Heuerman 6). Turnovers – Vandalia 15, T-Town 12. Personal fouls – Vandalia 11, T-Town 8. Fouled out – Warner. Record – Vandalia finishes 22-5.
Last Thursday’s Semifinal
Vandalia 52, St. Anthony 35
In fitting fashion, the Lady Vandals broke the program’s single-season wins mark by dominating on the defensive end against an overwhelmed Lady Bulldogs squad.
St. Anthony shot just 18 percent from the field (9 of 50), including 5 of 25 shooting from 3-point range (20 percent), as it was unable to take advantage of Vandalia’s season-high 28 turnovers.
The Lady Vandals set the tone defensively in the first quarter, forcing six St. Anthony turnovers, while holding the Lady Bulldogs to 1 of 10 shooting from the field.
Vandalia looked poised to run away with the game midway through the second quarter, as a Hobbie bucket capped a 12-1 run that had the Lady Vandals leading 21-7.
But St. Anthony trimmed Vandalia’s lead to 10, 26-16, by halftime, and gave the host team a brief scare with a flurry of 3-pointers midway through the third quarter.
The Lady Bulldogs hit trifectas on three straight possessions at one point, and a Kathryn Koester bucket at the 2-minute mark cut Vandalia’s lead to just three points, 34-31, capping a 15-4 run.
St. Anthony’s pressing/trapping defense gave Vandalia fits over the next minute-plus, as the Lady Vandals committed turnovers on three straight possessions. Fortunately, St. Anthony went ice cold from beyond the arc, and Vandalia regained control at the end of the quarter when Warner hit a pair of free throws to give the Lady Vandals a 36-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
It would be a quarter the Lady Vandals would absolutely own, as their defense overwhelmed the Lady Bulldogs down the stretch, fueling a decisive 16-0 run.
St. Anthony committed turnovers on four straight possessions at one point, and two more Warner free throws at the 4:50 mark extended Vandalia’s lead back to double digits for good.
Warner wound up scoring a game-high 20 points, hitting 6 of 12 from the field and 8 of 8 from the line. The versatile junior center had back-to-back 3-point plays in the first half to help VCHS jump out to its big early lead, and she added eight rebounds to a dominating Lady Vandals’ effort on the boards.
Vandalia outrebounded St. Anthony 40-18, as senior Banal led the way with 13 boards, to go along with 10 points. Hobbie chipped in 12 rebounds and eight points.
Cearlock scored 12 points, despite battling foul trouble all night and eventually fouling out in the fourth quarter.
St. Anthony leading scorer Jaclyn Jansen was held to 11 points, four below her season average. The Lady Bulldogs (18-10) went 0 for 9 from the field in the fourth quarter, committing eight of their 16 turnovers.
Vandalia 13 13 10 16 – 52
St. Anthony 6 10 15 4 – 35
Vandalia scoring – Walton 1-5 0-2 2, Hobbie 3-5 2-7 8, Cearlock 2-6 6-7 12, Banal 5-10 0-0 10, Shields 0-0 0-0 0, Warner 6-12 8-8 20. Totals 18-38 16-24 52.
St. Anthony scoring – Wolke 0-3 2-2 2, Winkler 0-4 2-2 2, Koester 4-12 2-4 13, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Mumm 0-1 1-2 1, Jansen 3-14 3-4 11, Schmitt 2-8 2-2 6, Goekner 0-2 0-0 0, Zereusen 0-1 0-0 0, Stephens 0-3 0-2 0. Totals 9-50 12-16 35.
3-point goals – Vandalia 0 (Cearlock 0-1), St. Anthony 5-25 (Wolke 0-2, Winkler 0-1, Koester 3-7, Jansen 2-10, Schmitt 0-1, Stephens 0-2, Jensen 0-1). Rebounds – Vandalia 40 (Banal 13, Hobbie 12), St. Anthony 18 (Jansen 5). Turnovers – Vandalia 26, St. Anthony 16. Personal Fouls – St. Anthony 19, Vandalia 13. Fouled out – Cearlock, Jansen. Record – St. Anthony finishes 18-10.