2022 All-Area Women’s Basketball Player of the Year: Koerner thrives on humble demeanor | Sports

MAHOMET — Cayla Koerner would rather discuss what the Mahomet-Seymour women’s basketball team has accomplished as a whole this season than her own role in the Bulldogs’ historic campaign.

No matter how many different ways Cayla is asked about her basketball skills, the senior turns the conversation back to her coaches and teammates.

His father is happy to learn that this is the case.

“Any one of those girls in the starting five or six could have been female basketball player of the year,” Chris Koerner said. “That’s how talented this team was, and they all sacrificed for each other.”

But Cayla Koerner is the 2022 News-Gazette All-Area Women’s Basketball Player of the Year.

Because, while many of her MS teammates also thrived this season, Cayla’s role in the Bulldogs’ accomplishments was a cut above.

The 5-foot-6 guard averaged 14.9 points on a single-season program record 523 points for MS, which won its first-ever sectional championship and finished with a 30-5 record. , the best of the program. The future Southeastern Missouri State soccer player also averaged 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists and set team highs in single-game steals (13), steals in a season (124) and career steals (280) on his way to the Associated Press Class 3A all-state honorable mention.

Even with all of those individual accolades, Cayla is fully invested in Bulldogs coach Garret Risley’s favorite motto. We on me.

“It wasn’t just me covering a big role,” Cayla said. “A lot of my points don’t come from me. They definitely came from my teammates. … We had such a good team.

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While Cayla will be a college football athlete starting at the end of the year, she admits that she had a love for basketball first and foremost.

Cayla and Chris each gave a reason for this feeling.

“My dad was my coach, and I just think that always brought a basketball mentality,” Cayla said. “My dad always taught me the right way and the wrong way to play basketball, so he always taught me the basics early on, and I just think that affected me as a player.”

“She grew up in Paxton-Buckley-Loda (school district). Great community, but they didn’t have soccer,” Chris replied. “For her, it was basketball and softball. I’ll never forget her, she was a freshman or sophomore and the old Illinois Futbol Club in Champaign came and had a football clinic. And she went to soccer and was like, ‘You know what? Football is pretty cool.

Cayla said Chris made her understand the “triple threat” of basketball, meaning she had to be able to shoot, dribble and pass at a high level.

She added that Chris simultaneously urged his daughter to adopt a “team first mentality”.

All of this, Chris said, comes from his own experiences playing for coaches who were themselves trained by famed Champaign Central frontman Lee Cabutti.

“They instilled in me the fundamentals and teamwork,” Chris said. “Cayla’s basketball comes from the guys who coached me, and I’m just passing it on.”

Even when Cayla started to take a lot more interest in football in fifth grade, she was still ready to focus wholeheartedly on the basketball season when it rolled around.

“I was really happy playing football,” Cayla said, “but now that I think about it, yeah, I’m kind of sad that basketball is over.”

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Cayla joined a strong but non-dominant MS women’s basketball program as a rookie in 2018.

The Bulldogs went 14-16 under then-coach Nathan Seal and 18-14 with Seal the following season.

Cayla was not a major on-field presence for either team, learning from the likes of upperclassmen Keida Nichols, Kailyn Northrup, Abby Kyle and Makayla Rosenbery.

“I looked up to all the seniors who were on the pitch all the time,” Cayla said. “I was everyone’s best friend.”

When Risley took over the program ahead of the condensed 2020-21 season, Cayla was part of a strong group of underclassmen who led MS to an 8-8 record. Cayla, fellow junior Nichole Taylor and sophomores Savannah Orgeron, Durbin Thomas and Abigail Bunting typically made up the top five in Risley’s first season at the helm. Cayla averaged 12.8 points, ranking second on the list behind 5-11 guard/forward Orgeron (14.8).

“She’s a competitor no matter what she does,” Risley said. “I knew there would be conflicts with the travel football stuff she was doing, but I always knew I was going to get 100 per cent from her when she was here.”

Cayla fit right into Risley’s “we over me” mentality.

“The philosophy that Coach Risley has installed…I couldn’t agree more with that,” Chris said. “I would say the reason Cayla probably played basketball in high school was because of her teammates.”

The Risley family also helped Cayla’s basketball abilities in other ways.

Jim Risley is Garret’s father, as well as an Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Famer for whom the Bulldogs’ school weight room is named.

Chris said Cayla and the elder Risley started working together in bodybuilding last August.

“I can see a difference in her,” Chris said. “There are times when they train at 6am. … He had an incredible influence on Cayla.

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Cayla’s influence on the success of SP women’s basketball was immediately apparent this season.

The Bulldogs started Nov. 15 against East Peoria in the Prairie Central Turkey Tournament. Cayla posted a unique double-double of 26 points and 13 steals, and MS swept all five games in the week-long tournament while Cayla received the Most Valuable Player honor.

“Every game…I felt like she just kept getting better in her role and figuring out how to play in the system,” Garret Risley said. “That initial tournament showed us, OK, this girl can be pretty special this year.”

That stat line against East Peoria also hinted that something Risley said played a big part in Cayla’s offensive performance throughout that winter.

“She’s very defensive on offense,” Risley said. “We knew when we set up the press and kind of increased it on the defensive side of the ball that it was going to lend itself to Cayla’s strengths. And she definitely bought into that and excelled.

Then there were Cayla’s ties to the other Bulldogs.

During MS’ offensive sets, Cayla was equally willing to haul a three-pointer or drive into the lane for a hard-fought layup.

Either way, she credits 5-5 playmaker Thomas with setting the table so Cayla could take advantage of scoring opportunities.

“She sees the field really well,” Cayla said. “She can see what’s open, and once she breaks down those defenses, she looks and it’s just a kick. And then she’ll come back, and we could play her again or we’d look at the position.

Those post appearances – mostly Taylor 5-9 and senior Ivie Juarez 5-9 – gave Cayla everything she could handle in practice, preparing her for the rigors of working inside the paint during a game. .

“She knew going into the games that she had already seen the best in practice,” Risley said. “What you saw in the game is how she trained, so she had tons of reps like that. … There wasn’t a switch she flipped once it was playtime. She was 100% the whole time.

Chris gives extra credit to Juarez, a future women’s basketball player from Parkland College who transferred from the normal community before this season, for facilitating the growth of Cayla and the Bulldogs as a whole.

“It’s not every day you get a 5-10 move that can play under the basket, that’s a great teammate, great person, hustle their butt, bounce their butt,” Chris said. “Ivie Juarez made Cayla better, and I hope Cayla made Ivie better.”

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Cayla’s playoff performances for MS included 28 points, six rebounds and three steals against Rantoul in a regional semifinal victory, 10 points and two steals against Rochester in a cup semifinal victory and 19 points against Lincoln in a cup title win.

“It wasn’t a game for me to really show anything,” Cayla said. “It was mostly that we all have to show what we have. … It’s got to be the team chemistry, us over me. This is what will win us games.

The Bulldogs couldn’t go on to win in a Class 3A super section against Civic Memorial. Cayla was the team’s second-leading scorer with nine points in a 53-48 loss.

“Cayla was definitely big for what we did in the playoffs. As for where we would have gotten to without her, it’s hard to say,” Risley said. “Where we would have probably been most affected is in our full court. … He was definitely someone we could give her the ball to and know she was going to split the press, and then on the defensive side he was someone who could create turnovers and build momentum in the common sense.

“So in terms of the distance we would have gotten, I don’t know if it’s different. Maybe it is. But I know how we get there is very different.

Chris hopes his daughter can enjoy the basketball part of her time at MS, even though football was more often her top priority.

“The only thing that matters is the banner hanging in the gym,” Chris said. “One day she’ll come back to that gym and say, ‘Holy schnikes, I played on a team that was 30-5, I made it to the Elite Eight, I won a regional championship and section.’ …that’s what made it so special.

Don’t worry, dad. Cayla is one step ahead of you.

“Walking into this gym, looking at the banner and seeing that we just won the section championship, the regional championship, we reached the Elite Eight,” Cayla said, “I just think it’s going to be cool .”

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