BETHALTO, Ill. — With a celebratory send off on Wednesday, the Civic Memorial girls' basketball team is off to somewhere they've never been before: the Illinois state Final Four.
The Eagles are 32-4 on the season and punched their ticket to the Final Four with a 54-45 win over Mahomet-Seymour in the Class 3A super sectional.
Everyone in Bethalto is fired up for this historic run.
"It's a dream. This is everything I wanted for my senior year and it's coming true. It's awesome," senior Kelbie Zupan said.
"I knew our team was special and I knew we had it in us, but going this deep in the postseason has felt amazing. It's been so exciting," junior Aubree Wallace said.
"No doubt about it, the girls are excited and the coaching staff is excited to get over that hump," Civic Memorial Head Coach Mike Arbuthnot said. "This community has supported athletics and girls basketball for many, many years. It was really nice especially these last couple of weeks as we've been in the playoffs, to be able to see all the purple and Eagle nation just everywhere. We've filled up every gym we've been to and every game we've had. We've just had great support through our administration, great support throughout our community and great support from the younger kids. It's just been amazing. An amazing ride."
This is the first state basketball tournament in Illinois in two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Eagles are more than happy their run is coming as things start to feel more normal again.
"It was a long season. We've had 36 ballgames. Through all the COVID protocols... And sometimes we're practicing with four people, sometimes we're practicing with the full team and it's just nice to be able to get some normalcy in a season," Arbuthnot said.
With an experienced team that has a history of playing together, this year's Eagles always knew if they played up to their skill level, they could be in this position at the end of the year.
"We know each other's strengths and weaknesses on the floor. So we play really well together," Wallace said. "All of us have played together since we were in like third, fourth and fifth grade."
"How we work together, we just want the best for each other. That's all it takes to win championships, is teamwork," Zupan said.
The school district has declared a virtual learning day on Friday so students and fans can go cheer on the Eagles in person.
If they're able to bring home their first girls basketball title in school history, it'll just be another memory for a team getting used to being a part of "firsts".
"It would be something I'd never forget," Zupan said. "That's the biggest thing in any athlete's mind. Bringing home first in state. That'd be awesome."