Jerry Prina, 2003 PBL graduate, to lead Eureka girls basketball in state tournament

EUREKA — Jerry Prina, a 2003 Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School graduate, will lead the Eureka High School girls basketball team in this weekend’s IHSA Class 2A state-final tournament.

Although this is the first time he is coaching in a state tournament, Prina is familiar with the IHSA postseason scene.

As a fifth-grade student in the PBL school district, he watched his older brother, Mark Prina, as he and his football team reached the state semifinals in 1995.

Mark Prina’s boys basketball team also reached the state-final tournament in the 1995-96 season.

“Being in the stands watching those games growing up as a kid, watching your brother make it that far, you always wanted to get back there to represent your hometown,” Jerry Prina said.

“I’m doing it in a different way — I’m doing it in from Eureka — but I’ll always be a Paxton native. I love representing the hometown.”

Eureka’s girls basketball program is reaching new territory as well. When the Hornets face Chicago Harlan (25-7) in the state semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal, it will be their first state tournament appearance since 1988.

Friday’s game will also be Eureka’s first-ever appearance in the final four.

Like Jerry Prina, however, Eureka has some familiarity with the IHSA state level as well, as the school’s volleyball team won a state championship in 2016.

“We’ve got some fresh perspective on the state tournament and what the IHSA means in the final four,” Prina said. “Of course, the Heart of Illinois Conference has been no stranger to the iHSA playoffs, so I feel like we’re carrying on a strong tradition.”

Jerry Prina would go on to play at PBL High School as a point guard.

At Eureka, he has one rule when it comes to offense  — “Whoever’s got the ball is the point guard.”

“I don’t care if it’s our biggest player or a player who’s typically a post player. If she’s got the ball in her hands, she’s the point guard, and you’ve got to listen to whoever has the ball,” Prina said.

“Our girls have taken a liking to that. You’ll see the confidence in our girls to make passes and knock down shots. We’ve got so many girls on the team who can handle the ball.”

In Eureka’s 54-47 win over Pleasant Plains in the IHSA Class 2A Illinois College Super-Sectional at Jacksonville, Tessa Leman had 29 points and 15 rebounds.

“The Leman name is a big name around here for sure,” Prina said.

While Leman had 18 points in a 64-62 win over Manito Midwest Central in the Farmington Sectional championship game last Thursday, Natalie Bardwell led the Hornets with 23 points.

After high school, Bardwell is going Olivet Nazarene to play basketball.

“She’s probably our vocal leader,” Prina said. “She’s going to have a great career (at ONU). She’s a runner and a gunner. She can shoot off the dribble. She’s only about 5-foot-8, but she’s got great range.”

Defensively, Prina said his team had to make an adjustment in its 47-43 victory over Camp Point Central in the Havana Regional championship game, switching to a full-court press.

“We’ve never gone past the three-quarter. For most of the season, we’ve been using sort of a hybrid where we’ll just sit back in a 2-3, or there are times where we’ll run the 1-3-1 half-court or just go strictly man-to-man,” Prina said.

“We wanted to make sure these girls, all season long, were able to adapt, and luckily, we’ve been able to change things up throughout the course of the season.”

Prina’s teachings go beyond X’s and O’s.

“I’ve had the privilege of having these girls in the classroom  as well,” Prina said. “They know, before I’m even coaching them, that we have to be represented with great character and representative of our school district and community and always taking the opportunity to make the extra effort and help others out and just do what’s right.”

Every Friday, Prina tries to teach the girls about John Wooden’s pyramid of success.

One of Wooden’s rules, according to Prina, states that anytime anybody scores a shot, you’ve got to give credit to the person who passed you the ball.

“You’ll see our girls pointing to the girl that gave them the assist if the shot was created for them,” Prina said.

The girls should be familiar with Prina’s teachings, as the 2017-18 season is Prina’s seventh as Eureka’s head girls basketball coach.

In his first year, the Hornets won a 2012 sectional championship. Last year, Eureka went 27-3 en route to winning a regional title.

This year, his Hornets enters the state-final tournament with a 28-3 record.

“Anytime you receive success, it’s always important to give credit to those who helped you achieve that success. I want to give credit to God, first and foremost. I give credit to my parents and family, particularly, for me, my wife, who makes so easy,” Prina said.

“Bethany and I have three little kids at home, and it’s never easy to do the coaching and parenting at the same time, but she makes it easy for me.”

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