Prep Girls Basketball

Blue Devils relish chance to make noise in regional

Rock Island's Bre Williams, left, and Carlee Camlin, right, can't stop a shot attempt by Quincy High's Kiley Espinoza on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 11, 2019 1:40 am Updated: Feb. 11, 2019 1:43 am

QUINCY -- Winning a regional game was probably an unthinkable task during Kiley Espinoza's freshman year on the Quincy High School girls basketball team.

How times have changed.

Quincy ended the regular season 21-8, its highest victory total in 21 years, and is set to be the host school for the Class 4A regional this week. Fifth-seeded Quincy opens against fourth-seeded Belleville East at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Now a senior along with Sarah Nelson, Stephanie Anders, Kaileigh Carothers and Sophia Abdallah, Espinoza is confident the Blue Devils can win a regional game.

"I definitely think it is," she said. "Even before, I thought it was a really difficult task, but there's no doubt in my mind we can now."

It's been a slow climb for the Blue Devils, who lost all 26 of their games during the 2013-14 season. The five seniors went 7-21 as freshman under then-coach Brad Bergman. Quincy has since enjoyed three straight seasons of double-digit victories. The win totals have improved from 12 to 15 to 21.

The last two seasons have ended with winning records with Martin Pazanin as the coach.

"It just flipped like a switch," Espinoza said. "I don't know if it was the team chemistry or what, but ever since Coach Pazanin got here something just flipped. He's turned us around."

What's missing is success in the regional tournament.

Quincy was a sixth seed in last winter's Chatham Glenwood Regional but was upset by 10th-seeded Champaign Centennial in the opening round.

The Blue Devils expect to do better this year on their home floor. Quincy benefits from not having an early dismissal to sit on a bus for more than two hours like most of their regional opponents will. Instead, the Blue Devils can prepare just like it's a home game.

"It will give us a normal day, and we can play with a comfort level," Pazanin said. "It will also help with preparation. We will be able to have a team film session on Tuesday instead of traveling."

There's also the opportunity to play in front of a pro-Blue Devils crowd.

"You get to play in your hometown for some of your last games of the season," Nelson said. "We'll have more fans since they don't have to travel. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Winning a regional gets more difficult should Quincy get past Belleville East. Expected to be in the title game is top-seeded Edwardsville, 26-2 and ranked No. 3 in the latest Class 4A poll. The Tigers finished fourth at the Class 4A state tournament last year.

Quincy isn't looking that far ahead. The players just relish a chance to play at home one more time, especially when their senior night last Thursday was canceled because of the weather.

"We've put in a lot of work, so it's cool to see we get to do things like host a regional," Nelson said. "It's awesome."