EDWARDSVILLE – Liberty Middle School's girls basketball team has been among the top middle/junior high teams in the state of Illinois for a number of years now.

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The latest edition of the Panther eighth-grade girls team is hoping to complete a three-peat for the school; they've won state titles at the sixth- and seventh-grade levels, and now are hoping to bring home a state championship as eighth-graders. The Panthers advanced to the Illinois Elementary School Association's Class 8-4A state tournament after eliminating Bethalto Trimpe 27-22 in the sectional final Wednesday night.

Next up for the Panthers is Flossmoor Parker in a quarterfinal contest at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Normal Parkside Junior High; a win would put Liberty into a semifinal game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against the Mokena-Arlington Heights South winner for a berth in the final, set for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, with the third-place playoff game preceding it at 6 p.m.

“This is our third time to the state tournament with this group,” said Panther coach Char Bond. “We've won the sixth- and seventh-grade championships the last two years and we're looking forward to the tournament.”

The current group of seniors on Edwardsville High's girls basketball team, including Kate Martin, Rachel Pranger, Lauren Taplin, Sydney Kolnsberg and Rachel Vinyard all came up in the Liberty program and won the eighth-grade championship in 2013. Like that group, this current group of Panthers have run the same drills and learned the same plays that Tiger coach Lori Blade runs at the high school.

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“It provides a good foundation for the girls when they get to the high school,” Bond said.

Among the top players for the Panthers have included Sydney Harris, Macy Silvey and Kate Connor.

“Sydney's our top scorer while Macy and Kate are our defensive specialists,” Bond said. “That's something we emphasize here, the little things and defense and rebounding.

“Our top rebounders are Ariana Bennett and Elle Evans; they can really rebound well.”

Bond is proud of what the Panthers have accomplished, both on and off the court.

“We've of what they've accomplished,” Bond said. “We have players who are excellent in the classroom and represent the school well.

“What we want to do is represent the school as best as we can; we'll go up there, go as hard as we can and do our best. We don't want to look ahead, but we're looking forward to the opportunity.”

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