Winter year in review: Fisher

BOYS BASKETBALL

OVERVIEW

It was a historic season for the Fisher boys basketball program and not one they will soon forget. There were plenty of ups and downs for the Bunnies, but they were playing their best at the end of the season — which, really, is a coach’s dream. Cody Diskin mentored a veteran group led by seniors Zach Griffith, Cale Zook, Jesse Pedigo and Ethan McCoy to a 21-10 record and 10-3 finish in conference, which was good enough for a third-place finish in the Heart of Illinois. Oh, and the program’s first regional title since 2012 wasn’t too shabby.

HIGHLIGHTS

Obviously, when you win 20 games for the first time in 29 years, there’s reason to celebrate. There’s even more cause for celebration when, in the process, you accomplished all of your team goals. The Bunnies got to Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center but lost a heartbreaker to arch rival Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in the HOIC conference tournament quarterfinals.

And after another devastating defeat, this time in the form of a 70-69 loss to LeRoy at home in the fifth-place bracket of the tourney, things turned around in a hurry. Fisher ended up winning nine of its last 11 games, annihilating its opponents along the way — including an 80-51 dismantling of regional top seed Chrisman in the title game to take the hardware home.

Outside of the postseason, the season’s best moment came in a 65-51 upset of Class 1A’s top-ranked team, Ridgeview, on the road in Colfax on Jan. 6. The Bunnies then lost to the Mustangs, 47-44, in a sectional semifinal game and were one of just two teams in the state to defeat Ridgeview this year. Zach Griffith scoring his 1,000th career point and being named a unanimous first team all-conference selection — along with teammate Jaden Jones-Watkins being honored as a second-teamer — were top individual highlights.

LOWLIGHTS

There weren’t too many low points for Fisher this year, but a seventh-place finish at the BSN Classic in late December takes the cake. The Bunnies had aspirations of winning the tourney for a third consecutive year, but tired legs led to a 2-2 record before surviving the seventh-place game against Georgetown-Ridge Farm. The other low point was seeing the devastation after the loss to LeRoy that dropped Fisher to 12-8. But apparently that was exactly the kick it needed the rest of the way.

QUOTES OF THE YEAR

“It was a great feeling winning the title, and I feel like our team has taken our game to the next level. We’ve been so unselfish and passing the ball around and getting guys shots. Honestly, I feel like these past three games have been the best I’ve seen us play in a long time.” — Bunnies junior guard Kade Thomas after the team’s regional championship game win over Chrisman.

“(The loss) left a bad taste in our mouth. It was a bitter feeling after that game, and that’s what pushed us the whole season to get better every single day, and it showed tonight.” — Bunnies senior forward Zach Griffith following the regional title game of the motivation Fisher took from the 44-43 loss to Salt Fork in the regional title game on its home floor in 2016.

“We believe that in the HOIC we can go in anywhere and play anybody, (it) doesn’t matter what your record is. And whoever comes out and plays a better game that night, they’re going to win. And I think the boys right from the start had that mentality that they can be the better team tonight.” — Fisher coach Cody Diskin after the Bunnies’ 65-51 win over Ridgeview Jan. 6.

FUTURE

There might be some rebuilding to do for the Bunnies, but there are still plenty of key pieces in place to maintain success. The Bunnies return Jones-Watkins, Thomas, Ryan Meents and Dalton Burk next season. For entertainment's sake, it'd be cool to see the Bunnies go with a four-guard lineup.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

OVERVIEW

 It was a season of ups and downs and inconsistencies for the Fisher girls, but, in the end, they would still usually give themselves a shot to win with a hard-nosed defense and a slower offensive pace.

The Bunnies kept scores in the 30s or low 40s. Coach Ken Ingold maintained all year long that if his group could score 40 points, it would put itself in a great position to win based off its strong defense. Although the Bunnies finished 12-18, they got themselves to a regional championship game behind that stout unit.

HIGHLIGHTS

Despite that sub-.500 record, Fisher powered its way to a regional title game against Decatur St. Teresa. Though the Bulldogs outmuscled the Bunnies convincingly, the Bunnies still showed heart by beating LeRoy at its own regional tournament site in a semifinal pairing.

On Dec. 27 at the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devil Classic, Fisher took down Watseka in a surprising upset. And on Jan. 26, Fisher upset the then-No. 1-ranked team in Class 1A, the Ridgeview Mustangs. What made it better for the Bunnies is they pulled the 40-37 upset over their Heart of Illinois Conference rival on the Mustangs’ home floor. Becca Clanton hauled in a perfectly thrown pass from Sidney Hood and converted a crucial two-point bucket down the stretch.

LOWLIGHTS

The low point was the month of December, when the Bunnies went 3-10 before turning things around in 2017. Mixed in with those three wins, though, was the triumph over Watseka.

QUOTES OF THE YEAR

“Becca’s going to make this shot. Becca’s going to make this shot.” — Bunnies junior Alivia Spenard of her mindset as Hood’s pass to Clanton in the Ridgeview game sailed through the air.

“I thought our schedule was extremely tough, and our girls fought through it. Even though we played a really, really tough schedule here at the end, I thought we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year without a doubt.” — Fisher coach Ken Ingold after the title game loss to Decatur St. Teresa.

FUTURE

Only two seniors will graduate from this team, but those two were crucial players for the Bunnies in Brittney Enos and Cassidy Thomas.

Despite losing their two leaders, the Bunnies return Clanton, Alivia Spenard, Morgan Wagner, Lexie May and Hood, who excelled as a freshman point guard in 2016-17. With that core back, Fisher should have a solid footing to start next season.

WRESTLING

OVERVIEW

The Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher wrestling team always sets its goals high. That’s what happens when a team dominates and wins regional titles year after year.

However, this season did not end the way the Falcons had anticipated as they finished in sixth place in the Class 1A Deer Creek-Mackinaw Regional out of a 10-team meet in which Stanford Olympia took home first place.

GCMS/Fisher did send two wrestlers to the sectional round, however, in Jacob Horsch and Payton Kean. Horsch would go on to the state tournament after a second-place finish at the Clinton Sectional.

HIGHLIGHTS

Horsch was the overall highlight of the season for the Falcons. From the start of the year, Horsch said his goal was to make it to state. Mission accomplished. Getting there was a thrill ride, as the junior trailed 11-9 with 25 seconds left in the third period of his semifinal match in the 138-pound bracket.

He rallied back with a match-tying takedown to force overtime then came away with a victory with a takedown with 17 seconds left in overtime to win by a 13-11 decision. With the win, Horsch advanced to the championship match of the sectional.

LOWLIGHTS

Only sending one wrestler to the state tournament was a disappointment for the Falcons. The GCMS/Fisher wrestling team is one of the top programs in the area. It was expecting more than just Horsch to be making a trip in 2016-17. And winning a team regional title is a goal for coach Josh Carter’s squad every season, so coming up short is not satisfying.

QUOTES OF THE YEAR

“Obviously, we’re disappointed. We set our goals at the beginning at the season, and we were trying to win regionals. I thought we had the potential to compete with these teams, but we just did not have a good day.” — GCMS/Fisher wrestling coach Josh Carter following the team regional at Dee-Mack.

“I think Jacob can be pushed to the moon. I would say that our primary goal is for him to get a medal at whatever weight class he is in. But I think he can do even better than that. I think he can be at the top of the podium. That should be his goal, and then we will see what happens.” — GCMS/Fisher wrestling coach Josh Carter on wrestler Jacob Horsch’s potential.

FUTURE

The Falcons won’t mope around in the offseason. A young team will set its sights on getting back on the mats and capturing that regional championship and sending more wrestlers to state.

“We have a young group, and, hopefully, we can get better in the offseason and come back hungry next year,” Carter said.

Email Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZCarp11.

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