Streaks take home hardware

by John Ring

It was a cold, gray day last December 30th when the Galesburg Silver Streaks lost two games in one day in Bloomington.

Their record was 12-5. The toughest part of their schedule was coming up. Their leading scorer and rebounder was injured. Their best defensive player was hurt.

They could have gone in the tank. They could have quit.

Instead, this Silver Streak team had one of the most remarkable stretch drives in their history. They won 20 out of 21 games and found themselves in the Final Four of the state tournament.

''When you have hard times,'' said senior Shanell Jackson, ''you get closer.''

The Streaks won the Western Big 6 conference. They won the Sectionals. They knocked off three teams -- Sterling, East Moline and Peoria High -- which had previously defeated them during their Revenge State Tour of 2001.

And they played on the final day of the season.

They lost both games on Saturday -- in a truly horrible fashion. They shot a meager 26 percent from the field in those two games and just simply couldn't buy a basket.

During one stretch of the consolation game against New Trier, Sarah Pacheco shot a 5-foot jumper that went in and out. She got the rebound and put it back up and it came out. Ashley Shepherd got the rebound, went up and shot and was fouled and the ball rimmed out.

Or consider the fact that Ashley Wisdom, the 6'2'' wunderkind center of Neuqua Valley hit two three-point shots early against the Streaks in the semifinals by banking them both in.

''It's a little unusual,'' said Coach Evan Massey after the game ''but they still count. We just ran out of gas today.''

''People ask about the Galesburg jinx. We've been down here so much, first the boys in the 1950s and 1960s and now the last six years here and we've never won it all. But the thing is we have never had really any sort of height advantage down here and we have to expend so much energy when we play. I don't mean that as an excuse or a complaint but just as a fact.''

The Streaks coach is exactly right. Of the 16 final teams in the Class AA girls tournament, there are a total of 39 players that are 6'1'' or taller. None of them are on the Galesburg roster.

But despite consecutive 14 and 20 point losses, the love affair between these basketball players and their thousands of fans in Galesburg didn't diminish. If anything, it seemed to intensify.

Here's what some of their fans had to say.

''Where are you going to find a nicer bunch of kids?'' asked Carol Spah.

''We have no better representatives of our community than the girls basketball program,'' said Neill Unger. ''I'm proud of them. They're always a class act.''

''They never have the big star,'' said Dave Makeever. ''They never have the big Division I player. They never have the big superstar. But they're always here.''

One of their biggest boosters in Mike Spah, a city councilmember from the 1st Ward.

''This isn't getting old to me,'' said Spah of the Streaks six straight appearances at Redbird Arena. ''It's a blast every time down here. I talked to Shannon Williams and told her that 98 percent of kids in high school never get to the state tournament at all. Not once.''

''Our kids played hard but they got tired. But they got a medal around their neck and they should be awfully proud of themselves. The entire community should be proud of them.''

December 30th? A 12-5 record?

That was light years ago. Ancient history. Forget about it.

What makes this team stand out is their run over the last eight weeks. It was magnificent, a finish that is virtually unprecedented in the history of Silver Streak basketball. The closest that comes to mind is John Thiel's 1966 team that came home with a 2nd place trophy.

These Streaks brought a trophy home as well.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online March 6, 2001

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