Notre Dame basketball trio look to solidify personal legacy

Friday, March 15, 2002

The gymnasium at Notre Dame Regional High School has about every conceivable feature a fan, player or coach could want.

Seating falls perfectly between being spacious and cozy. Scoreboards provide every pertinent detail. On the west wall hang banners from the school's state championship teams.

But something is amiss.

Notre Dame seniors Deana McCormick, Lisa Millham and Courtney Vickery know what the place needs.

A woman's touch.

"We want our names up on the wall," McCormick said. "It's lopsided up there -- we have all boys up there."

The trio, along with their teammates, have a chance to make a space for themselves on the wall this weekend at the Class 2A state finals in Columbia, Mo.

Notre Dame (27-2), which has never seen its girls teams win a state title in any sport, will face Stockton (29-1) in a state semifinal today. Stockton kept the Lady Bulldogs' names off the wall last season, defeating Notre Dame in the state championship game.

The championship game will be held Saturday night.

Win or lose, this weekend will be the last hurrah for the three Notre Dame seniors who have impacted the program like nobody before them. All three have played on the varsity team since their freshman year, and all will leave the school as record holders.

McCormick, a 6-foot center, has been a four-year starter and will graduate as Notre Dame's career points and rebounding leader. Millham, a three-year starter at forward, shoots close to 50 percent from 3-point range and is the school's career best at long distance shots. Vickery has been the starting point guard since her freshman year and is the all-time leader in assists.

Notre Dame had won two consecutive district titles before the threesome enrolled. Since, that number has been extended to six. During the girls' four-year span, the Bulldogs have reached at least the state quarterfinals every year, the state championship game once, been ranked No. 1 in the state and won 93 games while losing 22.

"They came in with a team that was pretty successful too, but I guess you could say they've taken that success to a new level," Notre Dame coach Jerry Grim said.

Grim is in his 20th season at Notre Dame and doesn't mince words about the fourth team he's taking to Columbia.

"I've had some good teams over the years, but right now I think this team is a better team than any team I've ever had," Grim said. "We've had some teams that were overall bigger, we've had some that could shoot the ball, but none was as complete a team as this one. And that includes the team from last year."

McCormick, Millham and Vickery embody that completeness.

"Together they are a great combination," Grim said. "You've got your point guard, you've got your post player and you've got your shooter. Each one of them are at the tops in their particular area, so you couldn't really ask for a much more balanced class than what this is."

As if on cue, the trio is going out with great solo performances.

In the 69-29 district championship win over Kelly, the spotlight fell on McCormick, who scored 17 of the team's 20 first-quarter points and finished with a game-high 25.

In a 60-41 sectional victory over Twin Rivers, Vickery, not a big scorer, stepped forward with a game-high 15 points.

In Saturday's 80-51 quarterfinal victory over John Burroughs, Millham and her sister, Ashley, came forward with vintage shooting, going 9-of-10 in 3-point shooting. Lisa Millham sank five of her six attempts in finishing with a game-high 23 points.

That has brought the group to a dramatic conclusion.

"It's just gone so fast," Vickery said. "This is pretty much what we've worked for and always wanted. Whenever you think about why you play high school sports -- we want our names up on that wall."

The wonder years

Four years ago the trio arrived at Notre Dame as a somewhat polished act.

Vickery and the Millhams are cousins, and along with McCormick, played AAU summer basketball together under Millham's father, Craig, now an assistant to Grim. After their sixth-grade year, the team traveled to Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma and other destinations to face some of the top talent in the country. While Vickery attended St. Vincent in Cape Girardeau, McCormick and the Millhams played together on grade-school teams at Immaculate Conception in Jackson, Mo.

"A lot of things they do, Craig put in their repertoire," Grim said.

The act has progressively gotten better. After going 17-13 as freshmen, the group has put together seasons of 22-6, 27-4 and their current 27-2.

"We've gone through a lot together," Vickery said. "We're just really close. Even like the bad experiences have made us even closer. Like the losses, we were all there together. We all experienced that and all know what it was like."

Three losses have been particularly painful, each marking ends of seasons.

After John Burroughs ended the girls' freshmen and sophomore seasons in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs finally figured out the Bombers last year to earn their first trip to the state tournament. Then, after beating Elsberry in a semifinal, Stockton shocked the Bulldogs in the final.

"It's what you always dreamed of, winning a state championship," Millham said. "We felt like we had a chance last year and we have a good chance this year and really want to do it."

Grim calls this year's team the most competitive group he's ever seen. He said he knows exactly how badly they want to leave as state champs.

"I would love to see this team win it all, and it's going to take every one of these seniors to do it," Grim said. "We've just got to remember we are a team, even though we've got some great seniors. It takes all of us."

jbreer@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 124

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