The 2022 Lady Jacket Mid-Winter Classic Basketball Tournament (LJMWC) is in the books, and the hometown Lady Jackets are the runners-up. This years' event took a lot of twists and turns, but with a bit of modification by Chester High School Athletic Director Bryce Bainter and girls head coach Clint Cowan, the event managed to stay afloat till the end of the week.
Things were rocky from the very beginning as Bainter had difficulty getting an eight-team field to compete in the 2022 tournament. At the last minute, the Freeburg JV team agreed to fill the eighth spot and join Chester, Valmeyer, Trico, Dupo, Cobden, New Athens and Marissa in the eight-tream bracket.
Chester defeated Cobden, 69-18 in Game 1 on the first night of the tournament Jan. 3 and New Athens beat Trico 46-39 in Game 2.
On Tuesday, Jan. 4, the Freeburg JV defeated Dupo 54-47 in Game 3 to advance to the championship side of the bracket, and Dupo moved to the consolation bracket. Game 4 had to be forfeited by Valmeyer due to a lack of players to field a team. Valmeyer ended up withdrawing from the tournament. There was no Game 4 Tuesday night.
The next day Marissa had to withdraw from the tournament due to COVID protocol and the tournament was down to six teams including Chester, New Athens, Freeburg JV, Dupo, Cobden, and Trico.
Game 5 on Wednesday, Jan. 5, featured Cobden and Trico who came to the consolation bracket from Monday night's losses. Trico beat Cobden 44-35 to advance to the consolation championship game. There was no Game 6 Wednesday night due to Valmeyer and Marissa withdrawing from the tournament.
Game 7 Thursday, Jan. 6, featured Chester and New Athens.
Chester 45, New Athens 38
Chester jumped out to an 11-6 first quarter lead behind the play of Kailyn Absher (5), Alyssa Seymour (2), Camrynn Howie (2) and Jazzi Merideth (2). The Jackets led 11-2 until the 1:23 mark when New Athens orchestrated a 4-0 run to end the period and come within 5 points of Chester, 11-6.
The New Athens Lady YellowJackets maintained their hot spell to begin the second quarter and outscored Chester on another run, this time a 5-0 run to tie Chester 11-11 at the 6:38 mark. That second run completed an overall 9-0 run on CHS.
After Chester's Rylie Conley hit a bucket to take a brief, 13-11 lead, New Athens went on their third run of the game, a 5-0 outing, to retake the lead, 16-13 with 2:39 to play in the first half.
Kailyn Absher then answered the call and hit two field goals in the final 1:38 to take a Chester lead into halftime, 17-16. In the first half, Chester's Kailyn Absher scored 9 of Chester's 17 points followed by Howie, Merideth, Seymour and Conley with 2 points apiece.
The third quarter was competitive, with New Athens just one point down, 22-21, with 5:38 to play in the quarter when Chester's Kailyn Absher and Seymour took the Jackets on a 9-0 run to establish a 10-point lead, 31-21 at the 2:06 mark.
New Athens was down by just 6 points, 31-25 after they pulled off a 4-0 run on Chester. With only 1:21 to play, Howie made a buzzer-beater to give the Lady Jackets an 8-point lead, 33-25, to end the third quarter.
It was still anyone's game going into the fourth quarter, and New Athens made it very interesting. The visitors from New Athens opened the final period with a 5-0 run to get within three points, 33-30, with 4:38 remaining in the game.
Chester's Kailyn Absher and Howie answered with back-to-back field goals to extend the CHS lead to seven, 37-30, at the 3:27 mark.
After a time out, Seymour was fouled and drained back-to-back free throws to extend the Chester lead to 39-30. A minute later, Howie was fouled. She went to the line and sank a pair of free throws at the 1:35 mark. Up 41-30 with an 11-point advantage, all was looking good for CHS.
At the 1:02 mark, New Athens began a 6-0 run that got them back into the game. New Athens trailed by just five points 41-36.
The rest of the game it was Howie 4, New Athens 2 and the Jackets survived to the final buzzer to win by seven points, 45-38, to advance to the championship game Saturday, Jan. 8.
In the win, Chester was led by three girls in double figures: Kailyn Absher (15), Howie (12), and Seymour (11). Other contributors were Rylie Conley (5) and Jazzi Merideth (2).
For the night, the Jackets hit 16 2-pointers and just one 3-pointer. They were 10-of-18 from the free-throw line (56%). The win improved Chester to an overall record of 9-10 and a tournament record of 2-0.
New Athens was led by Kaylee Juenge, who had 13 points, followed by Mallory Kimbrell (11), Emma Hager (7), Peyton Houser (5), and Ainslee Sullivan (2). From the line New Athens made 3-of-6 shots (50%). New Athens moved to the third place game Saturday afternoon.
There was no Game 8 Thursday night due to the withdrawal of Marissa and Valmeyer. Freeburg, who advanced to the semifinals Monday night after beating Dupo, automatically advanced to the championship game Saturday to face Chester.
Dupo 50, Trico 44
The consolation championship game was played Friday, Jan. 7. Dupo led 22-6 after one quarter of play and 32-10 at the half. Dupo outscored Trico 18-8 in the third quarter to lead 50-18 after three periods. In the fourth quarter there was a continuous clock and Trico outscored Dupo 10-0. Dupo won the game, 50-28.
With the win, Dupo was moved back to the championship side of the bracket to face New Athens in the third place game. Trico was awarded the consolation championship trophy.
Third place: Dupo 55, New Athens 29
Dupo led 13-5 after the first quarter. In the second period the Lady Tigers outscored the New Athens Lady YellowJackets 13-10 to take a 26-15 lead into the locker room at the half.
Dupo scored 13 points again in the third quarter for a total of 39 points. New Athens scored another 10 points to improve to 25 points after three quarters of action. The Tigers led 39-25 heading into the final stretch.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers did not let up and outscored New Athens 16-4 to win the game and the third-place trophy, 55-29.
In the win, Dupo was led by three players in double figures, including Alexis Curtis (20), Octavia Heidleberg (16) and Alexia Lewis (13). Other contributors were Kyann Prater (4) and T'yonna Burris (2). The Tigers shot 55 percent (5-of-11) from the line.
New Athens was led by Emma Hager with 11 points followed by Mallory Kimbrell (8), Kaylee Juenger (6), Ainslee Sullivan (6), and Mallory Kohnen (2). The YellowJackets made 6-of-13 from the line (46%).
Championship Game: Freeburg JV 44, Chester 40
The championship game was competitive and exciting. The Lady Jackets flew out of their hive aggressive and dominant, leading 14-0 with just 1:30 to play in the first quarter. Halfway into the first quarter the score was Kailyn Absher of Chester 4, Freeburg 0.
After a mask timeout at 4:16, Seymour went on a 10-0 run of her own to increase the Lady Jacket lead to 14-0 with 1:30 remaining in the first period.
Freeburg's Calli Smith, a junior, broke the ice for the Lady Midgets with a basket at 1:30 and Freeburg trailed 14-2. Chester's Conley, a freshman, answered with a 3-pointer with 1:08 to play.
Freeburg's Aubrie Peterson, a freshman, answered that 3 with a 3 of her own with 48 seconds to play, and the Midgets had 5 points. Conley was fouled with 38 seconds remaining in the first quarter and she drained both free throws. Chester led 19-5 after one quarter of play.
The Lady Midget spark that flickered late in the first quarter grew into a flame after the first quarter time out and they came out of the huddle with an 8-0 run that brought them within 6 points, 19-13, at the 2:57 mark.
Twenty seconds later Seymour grabbed a Chester offensive board and put it back into the basket for Chester's first 2 points of the second quarter. CHS led 21-13 with 2:38 to play in the half.
During the next 1:38, Freeburg used an 8-3 run to get within 1 point, 22-21, with 1:00 to go. Seymour would carry the Jackets in the final minute of the third quarter, making a basket and sinking a pair of free throws to increase Chester's total to 26 points.
Freeburg's Ellie Range hit a trey with 19 seconds to play, and the battle roared on with Chester leading by just 2 points, 26-24, after one half of play.
The third quarter was a defensive battle with Chester only scoring 4 points and Freeburg scoring 5 points. Neither team scored during the opening 5 minutes of the period. With 3:09 to play in the third, Seymour hit a bucket, giving the Jackets a 28-24 lead.
Just 30 seconds later, Freeburg's Aubrie Peterson popped a 3-pointer to pull the Midgets within 1 point, 28-27. A minute later, teammate Kylee Thompson hit a field goal to give Freeburg the lead, 29-28.
To close out the otherwise slow quarter, Merideth was foiled with .04 to play in the third quarter. She went to the line and drained both fee shots to give Chester back the lead, 30-29 to close the period.
The final quarter started with a 9-0 Freeburg run. Aubrie Peterson knocked down a shot and Ella Gagen hit back-to-back shots to pace Freeburg. Calli Smith also hit a shot to round out the 9-0 run. Freeburg led 38-30 with 6:03 to play in the game.
Chester was shaken the rest of the game, committing at least five turnovers against a very stifling defense. At the 4:53 mark Kailyn Absher scored a 2-pointer; 38 seconds later Conley popped a 3-pointer to bring Chester within 3 points, 38-35.
Merideth was fouled 18 seconds later and went to the free-throw line, making both free shots to bring Chester back within 1 point, 38-37 at 3:18. Seymour went to the line for two shots two seconds later and made 1-of-2 to tie the game, 38-38 at 3:16.
A minute later, Freeburg's Ella Gagen knocked down another 2-pointer to retake the lead for the Lady Midgets, 40-38 with 2:09 to play in the game.
The Jackets then turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions, and Freeburg called a time out with 1:04 left to play.
Chester had to foul three times in a row to stop the clock in the next 8 seconds. With 57.5 seconds remaining, the Jackets had to foul again. This time Thompson went to the line for Freeburg and made both shots to extend the Midgets' lead to 6 points, 42-38.
Chester called a timeout with 44.3 seconds remaining to set a game plan. After executing the play, the Jackets were unable to get a shot off under the pressure of the feisty Lady Midgets. With 13.8 seconds to play, Chester's Howie, who had been contained until then, connected for a field goal. Chester trailed by just 2 points, 42-40, with just seconds remaining.
Freeburg had the ball on their final possession and the Jackets had to foul immediately to stop the clock with 6.4 seconds to play. Freeburg's Ella Gagen knocked down both of her free throws to seal the game at 44-40. In the final 6.4 seconds Chester could not create a play and the Lady Midgets ended with the win.
In the loss, Chester was led by two players in double figures. Seymour scored 18 points and Conley scored 10 points. Chester's other top scorers were contained throughout the game, with Kailyn Absher only scoring 6 points and Howie contained to just 2 points. Merideth had 4 points.
For the night, Chester hit 11 two-pointers and just two 3-pointers. They were 12-of-15 from the free-throw line (80%).
Freeburg was paced by one player. Gagen scored 20 points followed by Aubrie Peterson (9), Ellie Range (6), Kylee Peterson (5), and Calli Smith (4). The Midgets were 7-of-9 from the free-throw line (78%).
Following the game, Chester received the second-place trophy and Freeburg JV received the championship trophy.
The 2022 All-Tournament Team was then introduced. The 2022 Most Valuable Player was Chester's Howie. Two other Lady Jackets also made the All-Tournament Team: Seymour and Kailyn Absher. Rounding out the 2022 All-Tournament Team were Emma Hager of New Athens; Kaylee Juenger of New Athens; Ella Gagen of Freeburg; Ellie Range of Freeburg; Kylee Thompson of Freeburg; Octavia Heidleberg of Dupo; and Taylor Cottom of Trico.