Potters target Redbird

Bryan Veginski
Morton senior Mariah Nimmo comes into the 2010-11 season as one of the area’s top girls basketball players. She was a first-team all-Mid-Illini Conference honoree as a junior. Nimmo led the Potters a year ago with 14.8 points and 3.3 assists per game. She also was proficient at the free-throw line and three-point arc and made 77 steals. Nimmo is a fourth-year point guard. Morton plays two games Friday and two more Saturday in its second annual Thanksgiving tournament.

The Morton girls basketball team hopes to pick up where it left off at the end of last season.

While that always is easier said than done, the Potters have a big advantage in that their top eight players, and all five starters, from 2009-10 are back.

“It’s definitely going to take all 13 girls buying into their roles,” MHS 12th-year head coach Bob Becker said, adding the chemistry is the best it has been in a long time.

Morton was 18-16 a year ago and 8-6 in the Mid-Illini Conference to tie Canton for fourth place.

But the Potters played brilliantly down the stretch. They won nine late-season games in a row, including four in the postseason to reach the Class 3A Champaign Sectional final.

Morton has made it to the Sweet 16 three times in the last four years and owns 18 postseason victories since 2004-05.

The Potters overcame a stretch last season in which they lost 11 of 13 games.

“We persevered through some tough times and I think we’re better for it now,” Becker said. “I hope last year’s experience does pay off.”

As a group, Morton enhanced its skills over the summer. The girls became stronger and more athletic. Working with EastSide Centre fitness director Al Nimmo helped.

Becker said the Potters’ depth is strong and they can employ a lot of different combinations.

“I like how hard they’re working,” said Becker of the players.

He mentioned Morton has gotten better defensively, but there still is some concern how well the team can guard the post.

Consistent rebounding, which will help ignite the Potters in transition, also is important.

Senior point guard Mariah Nimmo, a tri-captain, has blossomed into one of the area’s best players entering her fourth year as a varsity starter.

“She’s got the ability to break down defenses,” said Becker of Nimmo. “She draws a lot of attention and we need her to continue attacking the basket.”

Besides being Morton’s top scorer, Nimmo also has made strides in being a leader.

Coming off a first-team all-league season in which she averaged team-high totals of 14.8 points and 3.3 assists per game, Nimmo has a desire to guide the Potters to the state tournament at Redbird Arena.

Nimmo performed consistently well from the free-throw (.782) and three-point (.425) lines and made 77 steals.

Sophomore forward Sarah Livingston was a second-team all-M-I choice after producing 10.4 ppg and a team-leading 7.8 rebounds per contest.

She also topped Morton with .556 field-goal accuracy and set a single-season record with 114 blocks.

Senior forward Caitlyn Vandermeer and juniors Erin Tisdale and Lexi Ellis all are three-year varsity players. Tisdale, a guard/forward, and Ellis, a guard, also are captains.

Vandermeer supplied 7.1 ppg and 4.7 rpg, while shooting .449 from the floor.

Tisdale and Ellis had nearly identical scoring averages, with each chipping in 5.6 ppg. Tisdale collected 4.1 rpg. Ellis was a 75 percent foul shooter.

The aforementioned quintet combined to make 157 starts for Morton a year ago.

Also returning are: center Gabby Closner and guard Karissa Neihouser, both seniors, and junior guard Carly Crocker.

Junior Liz Schultz and sophomore Taylor Namanny will earn their first varsity letter this season after getting a brief sample.

Freshmen Kate Byrne, Abbie Cox and Kelsi Dahms also are part of the Potter roster.

“I like to think we are better offensively,” Becker said. “We have the ability to get up and down the floor a little bit.”

Practices are competitive, Becker said, and the players are eager to apply their skills, beginning Friday morning against Normal Community in the second annual Morton Thanksgiving Tournament.

The Potters again will play a schedule that is as rigorous as anyone’s in the area.

Opponents Moline (No. 9 in 4A), Richwoods (No. 4 in 3A) and Limestone (No. 10 in 3A) all were ranked in the Associated Press preseason state poll.

Normal Community, East Moline, Metamora and Galesburg each received votes. Plus, Morton likely will face a highly-regarded foe or two at the State Farm Holiday Classic.

Morton is aiming for its fourth Mid-Illini championship in the last seven years.

“I expect us to compete for it, but it won’t be easy by any means,” said Becker.

Limestone returns a lot from a 17-win season, including star Natecia Augusta, but Felicia Johnson transferred to Manual.

East Peoria is coming off an eighth-place M-I finish, but its top three scorers return.

Metamora always is competitive and will not release its league crown easily.

The Potters would like another crack at attaining the sectional title. They will place an emphasis on the postseason.

“I hope we get a chance to get back there again,” Becker said.

Morton is planning another Pink Night Jan. 21 against visiting Metamora. The team has about 1,000 wrist bands it is selling for $2 apiece.

Other events, like one in which the Morton Heat travel basketball teams will appear, also are slated.