Experienced Monmouth-Roseville hopes for a strong encore performance

Barry McNamara
Special to The Register-Mail
Seniors on the 2022-23 Monmouth-Roseville High School girls basketball team include, from left, Addisyn Switzer, Malia Killey, McKinley Rexroat, Chevelle Wolf, Mattie Gillen, Mariah Reading, Chloe Allen and Yoselim Hernandez. Not pictured is Lexi Finnicum.

MONMOUTH — Fifteen straight victories to start the 2021-22 season caught the attention of western Illinois girls basketball fans. 

What will the Monmouth-Roseville Titans do for an encore? 

Ending the season with more consecutive victories and winning the program’s first regional title is clearly within range. 

“Higher hopes slash higher expectations,” replied M-R coach Scott Weber when asked about the outlook for this year’s squad, which returns four starters from a team that ultimately finished 21-9. 

A thorn in the Titans’ side last year was Rockridge, which defeated M-R four times by double digits, including a 56-37 decision in a Class 2A regional championship game. 

But a look at last season’s All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference team bears good news for the Titans. M-R returns three players who received honors last year — senior Mattie Gillen, junior Carmyn Huston and sophomore Brianna Woodard — while all three Rockridge players on the first or second team have graduated. 

To that trio of solid starters, Weber welcomes back guard Lexi Finnicum, who started a year ago, and other experienced players such as Mariah Reading and Malia Killey. And he’s also excited about the player who will be making the whole engine go — sophomore point guard Tatianna Talivaa, who’ll take over the role handled by the graduated Belle Thompson. 

“Belle played out of position for us last year,” Weber said. “Tatiana is a point guard in the truest sense. She can handle the ball, she can score and she can pass. I want her to score. I’ve pretty much given her free rein, and I just told her, ‘If you do something I don’t like, I’ll tell ya.’ "

What Weber will like is Talivaa’s three-point shooting, giving the team another outside threat to go with Gillen, who averaged 10 points per game last year. In the paint for the second of what should be three productive seasons together are Huston and Woodard. 

Huston was a special mention IBCA all-state honoree last year after averaging 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Woodard chipped in averages of eight points and eight boards. 

“They really work well together,” Weber said. “They see each other and pass to each other well. And they both work really hard. Carmyn will be as strong as anybody we play this year. The only one that will rival her is the girl from Sherrard (Olivia Meskan) who’s on the national rowing team.” 

Weber enjoys the fact that his team won’t be one-dimensional, either by only threatening from inside or outside or by style of play. 

“I think people will have trouble matching up with us,” he said. “Inside and outside, we’re at least two deep with scorers in both spots. We want to get out and go, but we also realize that if it’s not there, we can slow it down, because we’ve got a good half-court game, too.” 

Add in the experience factor, and another strong start to the season is entirely possible. 

“The girls really get it this year,” said Weber, whose team began practices on Oct. 31. “We’ve started a step ahead of where we were last year. We’re a very experienced, senior-led team.” 

As those practices began, Weber gathered his team at mid-court and gestured to the center circle where they stood. 

“’That represents the bull’s eye that will be on your back this year,’” he told them. “We’re going to get everybody’s best effort this year, but that’s OK — that’s the way we want it. I told the girls it’s better to be the hunted than the hunter.” 

When the Titans do go on the hunt, they’ll be searching for a piece of history — that elusive regional title. 

“I told them at that first practice, ‘You can be as good as you want to be,’” said Weber of setting team goals. “Tournaments, conference, regional, we want to win them all. The way I look at it, let’s get to a regional championship and see what happens.” 

The draw for the postseason is still months away, but Weber knows that defending 2A champion Quincy Notre Dame, which returns its top four scorers, is lurking. 

At the conference level, Morrison’s pair of 6-foot-2 sisters, Shelby and Camryn Veltrop, will be a force, as will Sherrard. Weber also listed Macomb, Abingdon-Avon and Illini West as strong teams. 

An up-and-coming area squad, Mercer County, will be the Titans’ second opponent of the season. M-R opens the ROWVA/Williamsfield-Ridgewood Thanksgiving Tournament Nov. 14 with a game against Galva before meeting the other team in its pool, Mercer County, on Nov. 16. The Titans will then play teams from other pools for their remaining two games at the event. 

The first opportunity to see the new-look Rockridge Rockets comes Dec. 12 at The Shoebox. It will follow a Dec. 8 home game against Morrison.