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New era begins for Royals

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NORMAL – With 0.4 seconds on the clock and the Hinckley-Big Rock girls basketball team ahead 38-32 in Saturday's state championship game, the referees called a jump ball.

Immediately, the three players on H-BR's bench jumped to their feet and Jenna Thorp, Jes Meyer and Maxzine Rossler headed to the Royals' bench one last time.

H-BR coach Greg Burks hugged them as they came to the sideline, celebrating a four-year 119-12 run that includes two Class 1A state championships.

"That's a record to break right there for any of the girls coming up in our school because I don't see it happening anytime soon," Meyer said.

In that moment, as they hugged and celebrated their accomplishments on the sideline, a new era in H-BR basketball also began.

Burks won't start working on it for a few months, but the H-BR girls basketball team now looks much different.

The next time the Royals play a game, Tess Godhardt will be the senior star, Kaitlin Phillips the junior floor general, Katie Hollis a leading post presence and Alyssa Baunach is the team's clutch shooter.

This weekend, for a second straight year, Godhardt proved she could play that role.

She finished Saturday's final with nine points and 15 rebounds after scoring 19 points and 11 rebounds on Friday.

"If she played on this floor every game, she might be the best player in the nation." Burks said.

He was joking, and he realizes Godhardt was huge over the past two weeks with a pair of 23-point performances heading into the weekend. But he also knows that those kind of efforts will need to come a lot more often next season.

"She had some up-and-down games this year and she's going to have to be up more times than not next year," Burks said.

Phillips was disappointed with her weekend, but this season she proved she was a leader as well. She played every minute of Friday's game with eight points and seven rebounds but got in foul trouble and missed plenty of first-half time in the final.

But she recognized the problem and knows how to fix it.

"That was my bad," Phillips said. "I got in trouble going for some steals that I shouldn't have and I got put on the bench and I deserved it."

That understanding is one of the big reasons the Royals will have to lean so much on Phillips in the future and she also will take over the main role of creating shots for her teammates, like Godhardt, with her ball-handling ability.

"She's got a really, really bright future and she's going to have to step in next year and take over an even greater role and I know she can do it because of what she has done from this year to last year," Burks said. "Last year, she was really timid and we didn't even have her out on the floor at the end of the ball game in the state championship."

Hollis, who had plenty of scoring outbursts this season, will take on a bigger role in the offense. The bulk of her playing time this weekend came when Godhardt was in foul trouble in the second half Friday.

And she ended up making what proved to be a very important putback early in the fourth quarter of that game.

"If we hope to have success next year, Katie is going to have to step in there and play a greater role," Burks said. "Alyssa Baunach has hopefully prepped herself for a good senior year and Tess Godhardt is going to have to play on this level on a nightly basis."

Baunach might be the most intriguing of the four returning players.

She never was a focal point of offensive scoring when she entered the game this season, playing a larger role in defense and ball-handling against pressure defense.

But she did reach the state level of the three-point shootout, showing an ability to shoot the ball that the Royals didn't utilize a ton with their abundance of perimeter talent.

Next year, that will change.

"It's going to be a completely different team but we're going to do summer leagues and work together and make sure we get even better," Baunach said. "We still have a core and we've got some people that can come in and fill their spots."

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