Peoria High girls basketball team reaches new heights with run to Class 3A IHSA state tournament
Two wins away from a potential state championship, this year’s Peoria High School girls basketball team has advanced farther than any other in program history.
Ranked No. 3 in Class 3A, the Lions will play in the IHSA State semifinals Friday at CEFCU Arena in Normal. Peoria previously made it to state in 2000 and 2001, but bowed out in the Elite Eight both times.
“I just think it's unbelievable. Seriously, you want to get there (but) it's so hard,” Lions coach Meechie Edwards said during his IHSA media teleconference this week. “You really appreciate these moments because they don't come by very often.
“I just look at the hard work we put in and I just think it's just unbelievable, not only just for our team (but) for our school, for our city, our community. I just thank God we get the opportunity to be able to showcase our (skills) on a venue where people get to watch us and see what we do.”
Peoria brings a 28-3 record into a 10 a.m. contest against top-ranked LaGrange Park Nazareth Academy. The Roadrunners are 33-1, with that lone loss coming against an out-of-state team from Green Bay, Wis.
“We played them last year up in a shootout in Chicago, so I'm pretty familiar with them,” said Edwards. “They’re a very tremendous team. They're big and they wait for you to make mistakes. They’re really efficient (and) they can shoot it. They’ve got a shooter in No. 22 (Grace Carstensen) and nice bigs on the blocks.
“You’ve got to just keep everything out in front of you and just compete. You can’t make many mistakes against them; we’ve got to keep down the turnovers and things of that nature, but I think we'll be OK. We’re ready to go.”
The Lions are led by three co-captains in top-scoring standout Aaliyah Guyton, a 5-foot-10 junior guard and the daughter of former Peoria Central star A.J. Guyton; 6-1 senior forward Denali Craig Edwards, a Western Michigan recruit and the coach’s daughter; and 5-8 junior guard Allannah Jackson. Juniors Danielle Ruffin and Niasha Rutherford round out the starting lineup.
“You’re seeing great tempo control on both ends of the floor far as defensively and offensively,” said Coach Edwards. “We’re in the passing lanes, finishing at the bucket. Our energy is really, really high and we’re high-fiving one another. We’re having fun and that’s what we’ve been thriving on.
“Our kids are just unbelievable. I just I don't know what to say, they’re just great people and we just have fun.”
If Peoria beats Nazareth, it would advance to Saturday's 5:30 p.m. title game against either No. 2 Lincoln (35-0) or No. 10 Deerfield (29-5); the third-place game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday. Lincoln pinned a 48-41 defeat on the Lions in January for their only loss since Dec. 3.