TERRE HAUTE —
Almost 10 years ago, February 2002 to be exact, the New England Patriots upset the high-powered St. Louis Rams to win Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the Winter Olympics entertained spectators in Salt Lake City and Terre Haute South High School’s girls basketball team started its tournament run toward a Class 4A state title.
A tribute to those 2001-02 Braves will appear in this sports section at a later date, I promise.
But there was another group of female basketball players who earned Tribune-Star headlines that winter — the eventual Class A state champion North Vermillion Falcons.
Starters on that squad were 5-foot-7 senior Ashley Hughes (who finished with an average of 14.4 points per game), 5-7 1/2 sophomore Allison Hughes (also 14.4 ppg), 5-7 junior Kayla Hinkle (13.0 ppg), 5-7 senior Sherry Norman (10.4 ppg) and 5-7 senior Abby Gibson (7.8 ppg), while the primary substitutes were Rachel West (4.8 ppg) and Annie Morgan (2.3 ppg).
Coach Ken Gentrup’s Falcons lost to Rockville 71-66 in the second game of the season Nov. 9, 2001, then went on a remarkable 50-game winning streak that carried into the next season.
Ranked No. 1 in the state by the end of the ‘01-02 regular season, North Vermillion defeated Riverton Parke 61-41 (the Hughes sisters led with 15 points apiece) and slipped past Rockville 32-25 (Norman 13) to capture the North Vermillion Sectional crown. Then it knocked off North Central 58-47 (Ashley Hughes 16) and Morristown 65-50 (Allison Hughes 24) to emerge victorious in the Southwestern Regional.
That sent the Falcons to the Southridge Semistate, where they shot 57.8 percent from the field (26 of 45) and routed Loogootee 68-48. Norman tossed in 15 points, Gibson contributed 14, Hinkle added 13, Ashley Hughes had 11 and Allison Hughes 10 as they earned a trip to the state finals in Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse.
In that morning game against Hebron on March 2, 2002, Norman tipped a Hebron in-bound pass with 4.9 seconds left and coverted two free throws to seal a 45-42 triumph. That gave North Vermillion a 25-1 record and Gentrup a state championship in only his second season as a varsity coach.
For their efforts, the school received an big plaque and everyone affiliated with the team — players, coaches, student managers and the bus driver — received a championship ring.
“I wear mine every day,” Gentrup proclaimed Wednesday.
“You appreciate it more 10 years later,” he continued. “It was a high back then and it was so neat … Now you realize how hard it was to accomplish.”
He’s right. No Wabash Valley girls basketball team has won an IHSAA state title since Terre Haute South and North Vermillion did it on the same day in 2002.
But that wasn’t the reason Gentrup decided to write a book — titled “Remember the Ride” — that will come out Jan. 27 before the North Vermillion home boys basketball game against Covington.
You see, when Gentrup retired from his job at Tee Pak in Danville, Ill., in 2007, he had three goals for his post-retirement life:
n Write a book about his late son Kirk Gentrup (”Heaven’s Point Guard” debuted in October 2010);
n Open his own antique store in Danville (which he named Glory Daze);
n And write a book about his eventful first four seasons as North Vermillion’s girls basketball coach.
“Remember the Ride” — published by Founders House — will be sold at upcoming book signings (including Jan. 27 at North Vermillion), online at www.amazon.com and www.foundershousepublishing.com and at Glory Daze at 142 N. Vermilion St. in Danville. Gentrup also said you can call his cell phone at (217) 260-7926 to set up a book purchase.
“I think it turned out well,” Gentrup said of the book. “It will be a nice keepsake item.”
At the Jan. 27 signing, most of his 2001-02 North Vermillion players reportedly will show up for a reunion reception in the cafeteria and introduction to the crowd before the boys game. I’m told they also will be available to sign copies of Gentrup’s soft-back book, which costs $15 apiece, after the game.
Gentrup said he’s kept in touch with some of the girls over the years, adding that about half have married and had children.
Ashley Hughes — now 28, living in Lafayette and working as a clinical project manager for Cook Medical — is looking forward to seeing old friends at the reunion and reading Gentrup’s book, which contains a few contributions from her.
“They rolled off my finger tips pretty easily,” she said of the memories she e-mailed to Gentrup when he was writing his book last year.
Hughes listed her favorite parts of the state-title season as “the team chemistry, the work we put in and the fun we had on and off the court.”
“It’s something I’m still very proud of,” she added.
I I I
n Another year, another omission — Think back for a few seconds to Jan. 1 when I summarized our “Wabash Valley Sports Year In Review” with a list of our staff’s top 10 stories for 2011.
We included a lot of great stuff. But there was one glaring omission — the NCAA indoor championship in the women’s weight throw won by Indiana State’s Felisha Johnson, a sophomore at the time.
On March 11 at College Station, Texas, Johnson posted a school-record throw of 74 feet, 5 1/2 inches to beat out runner-up Jeneva McCall of Southern Illinois (73-8 1/4) for the national crown.
Another ISU athlete, Kelsey Hanley, placed seventh in the same event.
Now a junior, Johnson has already assured herself of a repeat trip to the NCAA indoor championships in 2012. If she captures another national title, I’ll make sure we don’t accidentally leave her name out again.
n Moving on — Emily Knight confirmed this week that she is stepping down as girls soccer coach at Terre Haute North High School.
The reason is her husband Ted got a job offer in Shelbyville that he could not refuse, so their four-person family will be moving before next season.
Knight, who coached North’s varsity for seven years, said she told the players about her decision last Friday.
“I’ve absolutely loved the time I spent at North,” she reflected. “I’ve been devoted to the school and the team, so it was a hard decision to make. But I had to do what is best for our family… I think the Patriots will continue to be successful.”
David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.