GRANVILLE — Tom McGunnigal had just two hours to assemble his North squad for Saturday’s Illinois Valley All-Star Game in Granville. It was long enough to know he’d like to be able to spend more time developing their talents.
“I’d like to take this team and practice a couple times and get into some tournaments,” said McGunnigal, the longtime St. Bede coach. “It was a lot of fun getting them up and down the floor on both ends. They had good communication and nice balance, inside and outside ... I’m excited to see them play. They all wanted to go hard.”
Saturday’s Illinois Valley All-Star Games will once again feature the top senior players from 24 schools around north central Illinois. Senior players were nominated by their coaches and selected by coaches of the representing schools. The North squad includes 12 schools north of the Illinois River and 10 schools south of the river, plus Ottawa and Ottawa Marquette.
“This is a great thing that Josh (PC coach Nauman) has started. It’s always nice to see kids get recognized. It’s fun to say, ‘I played in an all-star game,’” McGunnigal said.
The girls game will tip of at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at R.M. Germano Gymnasium. Separate three-point contests will be held prior to the start of the boys game, which is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
The game is being sponsored by The Locker Room and Matt Hostetter from Country Financial. Admission for the evening will be $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors.
McGunnigal will have two of his Lady Bruins in uniform for him — Mo Dean and Lydia Stariha. A third, Whitley Funfsinn, was nominated but will be attending a brother’s wedding and is unable to play.
Princeton will be represented on the North squad by Lexi Marselle, Emmalee Sears and Makenzey Wilson while Hall sends Jacquie Wallaert. Other squad members include Mendota’s Karly Near, IVC’s Sarah Larson and L-P’s Brianna Argubright and Brit Zawacki.
McGunnigal said his all-star squad all showed respect for one another, “giving high fives, handing out compliments.” Other than talking about spacing and man-to-man defense, McGunnigal said his coaching strategy is simple.
“They’re all stars; they’re talented. You let their natural ability take over and let them play,” he said.
Assistant coach Kevin Geldon of Mendota brought in a few of his sophomore players to help scrimmage against the North squad, McGunnigal said.
The South girls roster has just seven players, including Darien DeVary of El Paso-Gridley’s 2A third-place team, along with four players from Midland and two from Ottawa. They will be coached by longtime Ottawa coach Mike Cooper.
St. Bede’s Mike Kilmartin and his staff will direct the North boys. Their squad represents the best of the Illinois Valley, including the talents of St. Bede’s Joe Pyszka, Brad Groleau and Damin Smith, Hall’s Brett Fanning, the BCR Player of the Year; L-P’s Jen Sonderholm and Mendota’s Trae Blumhorst and Austin O’Sadnick. Bureau Valley will be represented by Brian Lange.
The North squad worked out Sunday afternoon at IVCC and Wednesday night at PC. Kilmartin said the talent is obvious; it’s a challenge to turn strangers and opponents into teammates.
“The hardest part in these games is of course to get players to share ball and not shoot every time they touch it. They are all good or very good players. it’s difficult to play with people you don’t know and don’t trust,” he said.
Putnam County’s Xavier Warren and Cody Veronda will play in front of the home crowd one more time at R.M. Germano for the South squad. Nauman will be the head coach, assisted by PC staffer Mike Moriarity. Other squad members include Fieldcrest’s Brady Sanders and Kyle Crowley, Marquette’s Elliott Kowalski, El Paso-Gridley’s Bodee Schlipf , Flanagan-Cornell’s Matt Harrison, Streator’s Josh Houch, Ottawa’s Nick Harsted and Woodland’s Zane Noonan and Nate Roemer.