'It gives you goosebumps': Why Metamora basketball's trip to state finals means so much
Metamora coach Danny Grieves was glued to his TV on Sunday, watching as Illinois battled for a share of the Big Ten Conference championship.
The Fighting Illini pulled out a 74-72 victory over Iowa, then celebrated their league co-title on Lou Henson Court at the State Farm Center. On Monday, Metamora punched its ticket to the Class 3A boys basketball state finals and earned a shot to play on that very hardwood.
“It gives you goosebumps,” Grieves said.
The No. 10 Redbirds (29-6) face top-ranked Chicago Simeon (28-5) at 11:30 a.m. Friday in a state semifinal in Champaign. This also marks the first state finals appearance for Metamora, which gives the Mid-Illini Conference its first finals participant since Limestone’s 2013 3A third-place finish.
Not only did the supersectional victory make Metamora program history, but also gave a morale boost to the entire Redbirds family.
“I had a bunch of (students) tell me (Monday), ‘Coach, we really needed this. It’s been a tough year and half,’” Grieves said. “Now, the masks are off, the gym’s full and we’re finally being happy.
“We’re bringing a little joy to community. It’s been fun.”
Things turned more enjoyable for Metamora — riding a 17-game win streak — in its Elite Eight win during a key stretch from the end of the second quarter to midway through the third quarter. The Redbirds went from trailing by three to up nine, utilizing a stingy defense that allowed Wheaton St. Francis only three points on 1-for-8 shooting.
Metamora senior Zack Schroeder credits the extensive scouting report, which included nearly 50 video clips on every starter as well as key reserves.
“We had a plan,” Metamora senior Zack Schroeder said. “We knew all the sets they were going to run coming into this week. We watched a ton of film. … We knew what they were coming with and we just remembered our gameplan.”
Teams scouting the Redbirds will see the balance in starters Schroeder, Ethan Kizer, Tyson Swanson, Drew Tucker and Tyler Mason display on offense. However, Matthew Zobrist’s play may surprise some opponents.
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The 6-foot-3 freshman guard came off the bench to score seven points in the super victory. He knocked down a free-throw line jumper, then buried a 3-pointer from the right wing just 98 seconds later during a 10-2 second-quarter push.
Zobrist, the son of former Bradley sharpshooter Aaron Zobrist, had missed time earlier this season with a foot injury but is healthy and usually the first player off the bench.
“He don’t look like a freshman,” Grieves said. “He don’t play like a freshman. Kid’s a tremendous talent. We worked him up a couple times this season. … I tell you what, he’s the real deal as a freshman.”
As for Friday’s meeting with Simeon, Metamora carries a little extra chip on its shoulder.
Assistant coach Justin Dehm was a Richwoods junior when Derrick Rose hit the game-winning shot in overtime for the 2006 Class AA state title. Dehm had sent the game to extra time when he split a pair of defenders, then swished a 3 at the buzzer.
That Simeon victory started a string of eight state finals appearances over a 10-year span for the Chicago power, including a Class 4A four-peat from 2010-2013.
“We’ve got unfinished business,” Schroeder said, “the entire Metamora program does because of him with Simeon. We’re going there, we’re going to prepare and be ready for them.”
Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.