Girls basketball: Determined Laura Tonner leads Rensselaer to sectional title
RENSSELAER — Rensselaer’s Laura Tonner has so many positives to her game it’s almost scary.
At 6 feet tall, she can post opponents up and do damage, but she can also shoot from behind the 3-point arc. In the classroom she is an A student.
And she’s one of the main reasons the Bombers have recovered nicely from last season, when they began the year 9-5 but bombed the rest of the way, losing eight straight games. Which highlights another plus in Tonner’s game: she has a very good memory.
“Last year we thought we were going to win the sectionals,” Tonner said about the Bombers, who lost in a first-round sectional game to Kankakee Valley. “I was really sad to end my junior year that way but all the seniors said we wanted to highlight this year by winning sectionals.”
For the first time in five seasons, the Bombers, led by Tonner and a solid senior class, are preparing for a regional tournament, which they will host Saturday with their semifinal matchup being a tough one against Benton Central.
But in order to appreciate the one-year turnaround as well as Tonner’s impact on the Bombers, you have to go back to the painful exit interviews coach Jeff Marlow had with his team after last season.
“She was very direct that she wanted her senior year not to end the way her junior year did,” Marlow said. “She was our leading scorer as a junior but we finished 9-12 last year and she and her fellow seniors put in the work to make that happen.”
That work for Tonner included being a part of a summer AAU team that won a state championship.
To make sure that wouldn’t be the final time the three-year varsity starter contributed to a trophy-winning season, she says she trained hard and worked to improve her shot. She averages 14 points per game this season, two more than last year.
And of course there’s that 3-point shooting. She’s 34 percent from behind the arc, which is rare for a post player.
“She’s our primary 3-point threat,” Marlow said. “That stretches the other teams’ defense and causes mismatches, especially if they put a smaller girl on her. Plus she’s a good offensive rebounder and a good ballhandler, which gives her a chance to see over the top of kids who aren’t as tall as her.”
Those talents helped Rensselaer to a 10-3 start this season, but, for the second straight season, the Bombers limped into the playoffs after losing four of their last seven. And their first-round sectional foe was again Kankakee Valley.
Marlow said Tonner had one of her best games of the season against KV this time.
“She helped carry us, especially in the earlier parts of the game,” Marlow said about the 48-47 win. “To do that against a conference rival who had six or seven wins in a row against us, that was big.”
That’s where the Tonner memory again comes into play. The 19 points, eight rebounds, and two assists she had for the game didn’t hurt, either.
“Last year we were up by eight but they came back and beat us by three,” Tonner said. “It was a great moment to win that game, especially when you get to cut down the nets. That was awesome to me.”
Awesome is a nice way to describe the Bombers’ next opponent. FOurth-ranked Benton Central (20-3) is two years removed from a state title game appearance and winners of seven straight games.
“They’re a team in our conference so we see them every year,” Marlow said of his regional opponent, who beat the Bombers 81-39 earlier this season. “We know we’ll have our hands full but we’re ready to accept the challenge and go out there and see what happens.”