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The girls basketball season featured some struggles in the first half of the season before some turnarounds down the stretch. Here are the Rantoul Press awards.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: Williams was the definition of a playmaker — when she wanted to be. Rantoul’s coaches said they tried to make the senior guard realize how good of a player she is. One of the nastiest pull-up jumpers in the Okaw Valley Conference and a great ability to drive and get into the lane earned Williams second-team All-OVC honors. She averaged 9.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Williams was tied for the second-best shooting percentage on the team, even though she took by far the most shots. Brittney Enos for Fisher was outstanding as well.
RUNNER-UP: Brittney Enos
COACH OF THE YEAR
WHY HE WAS CHOSEN: Hipsher has been one of the most consistent girls basketball coaches in the area, but this year it looked like things were probably going to change. The Armstrong-Potomac Trojans started the year 4-7 before a complete turnaround, starting with a mid-December win over rival Bismarck-Henning. A third-place finish at the Vermilion County Conference Tournament ensued, and a 15-12 record rounded out the season. Hipsher guided the Trojans to that 180-degree turnaround, and the seniors on the team (Hayley and Holley Hambleton, Angela Sieberns, Riley Williams) did not panic. Fisher's Ken Ingold led the Bunnies to a 12-18 finish, but they reached a regional title game and picked off a pair of top area teams (Ridgeview, Watseka).
RUNNER-UP: Ken Ingold
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: On a team known for its defense, Clanton was the top steals getter with 68. Although she does need to quit getting into foul trouble (something she readily admits she needs to improve), the junior guard was arguably the most aggressive on her team along with Alivia Spenard. On the defensive end, though, Clanton was a bulldog. She and Spenard will be looked upon to lead this program in the right direction in 2017-18. Armstrong-Potomac's Holley Hambleton was also a strong perimeter defender.
RUNNER-UP: Holley Hambleton
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: Gayheart was one of those players who, if she could only realize how good she is, could assert herself and become a dominant player. Maybe she will do that in 2017-18, as the junior will be coming back for a final go-round. Even though Gayheart only was given an honorable mention accolade for All-Vermilion Valley Conference, she was often the key cog for the Trojans. When she was aggressive and playing well, Armstrong-Potomac had an extra edge. The lefty guard has a world of potential heading into next season. A-P sophomore guard Nicole Sprague showed that she has a terrific jump shot and can get into the lane. Watch out for her over the next couple years.
RUNNER-UP: Nicole Sprague
RANTOUL PRESS ALL-AREA GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: Enos grabbed the team’s most rebounds (243), made the most 3-pointers (37) and had the best free-throw percentage (75 percent). She was the team’s lone representative as an All-Heart of Illinois Conference second-team member and will be playing in Saturday’s HOIC -Sangamon Valley Conference All-Star Game. Along with the accolades, Enos’ teammates all described her the same way — she was Fisher’s leader. She and Cassidy Thomas, Fisher’s other senior, helped lead Fisher to a Class 1A regional title game appearance.
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: Espinoza was one of the most fun players to watch in the area. Rantoul’s diminutive point guard had probably the best jump shot among the three area teams, and you could never question her heart. The Eagles called it the “Breezy Count” for how many times she hit the floor either diving for loose balls or just playing with aggressiveness. For her strong efforts, Espinoza was named a first-team All-Okaw Valley Conference member after averaging 7.9 points and 1.8 assists and not missing a game. The four-year starter will be missed next season.
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: See above.
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: Sieberns didn’t have exactly the year some expected, but she was still a strong presence in the middle for Armstrong-Potomac. The senior post player was thrust into a starting role for the first time in her varsity career this year. Although she played about the same amount of minutes as she had during her junior campaign, there was still more thrown onto her shoulders. Sieberns helped the Trojans do a complete turnaround midway through the season. Without her, things would have turned even further south, and A-P probably wouldn’t have been able to dig itself out.
WHY SHE WAS CHOSEN: See above.