116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES -- Ride off into the sunset? Go out on top?
Are you kidding?
“I’m coming back,” Cedar Rapids Xavier girls’ basketball coach Tom Lilly said after the Saints defeated Sioux City Heelan, 54-40, for the Class 4A state championship Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.
“Hey, I have a car payment and I’ll probably have to have a knee replaced, too.”
Then he turned serious.
“In terms of retirement, I’ve spent a lot of years at Xavier,” he said. “I don’t know what else I would do, and that scares me.”
Lilly turns 67 on March 19. He owns a 37-year career record of 598-275, and though he’s in the business for the kids and not for the numbers, he has admitted that entrance into the 600-win club is an additional carrot that is too appetizing to pass up.
When he gets there, probably in late November, he will become only the 17th girls’ basketball coach in Iowa history to do so.
With Xavier trailing 24-17 at halftime Saturday, he changed the Saints’ press.
“We needed to keep the middle of the floor covered,” he said.
Riley Jonker said, “Our press is high-energy. It makes the opponents play faster than they want.”
And it started to take hold midway through the third quarter. The Saints (20-6) trailed 29-20 before freshman Libby Fandel converted a steal into a basket, and that ignited a 7-0 run to get the Saints back in it.
Mary Kate Moeder got a backcourt steal, hesitated for a moment, set her feet and launched a 3-pointer to put Xavier in front, 32-30.
Heelan regrouped for a stretch and regained the lead, 36-33, early in the fourth quarter, but it was all Xavier the rest of the way to the tune of 21-4.
Fandel got another steal and hit a baseline shot. Lexi Beier jolted the Crusaders with back-to-back 3-pointers. Jonker scored on a feed from Kyla Mason, and the Saints had control for good, 43-36.
Beier transferred from Linn-Mar after her sophomore year, and Jonker did likewise a year later. They meshed with their new classmates -- Maya Karl, Maddie Steger and Mary Kate Moeder.
Moeder could be classified as the heart of the team after returning from a torn ACL before her junior season.
Fandel is a talented, versatile 6-footer who could blossom into one the best volleyball/basketball combo athletes in Metro history. Lilly didn’t rush the rookie along; she didn’t start until midway through the season.
“This doesn’t feel real at all,” Fandel said. “Things just came into place, and I’m so proud of my teammates.”
Mason, a junior who joined Fandel on the all-tournament team, also returns for 2022-23. So do juniors Lexi Turner, Emma Arnold and freshman Sydney Huber, who were valuable pieces in Xavier’s 10-player rotation.
For Lilly, that’s a nucleus worth coming back for.