MOUNT PULASKI — Skylar Hayes doesn't really want to be in the spotlight, but the spotlight seems to find her.
On Mount Pulaski's volleyball team, the senior outside hitter led the Hilltoppers in kills and propelled the team to the Class 1A Sweet 16. On the basketball court Hayes is even more dominant, averaging 19.3 points a game, and she recently surpassed 2,000 career points.
With nine more games on the regular season schedule, Hayes has 2,159 point and is poised to become Mount Pulaski's all-time leading scorer — boys or girls — and surpass Jeff Clement's record of 2,212 points set in 1978.
Hayes is one of four seniors that have the Hilltoppers poised to make some noise in the postseason.
"We need to get that regional title," Hayes said. "It has been a little bit and anything past that of course would be awesome. I want to get that regional title. I really do."
Mount Pulaski last won a regional championship in the 2012-13 season when the team made a run deep in the Class 1A state tournament and ultimately a second-place finish.
Last year's playoffs ended in a regional title game loss to St. Teresa in which Hayes scored 25 points, and the Hilltoppers took a little revenge by beating the Bulldogs 58-54 last week.
"That was probably the best game we have had all season and four of us were in double figures," Hayes said. "That was our best game as a team. We have been struggling to find that complete game but we got it against St. Teresa."
Along with Hayes, seniors Savanah Moore, Morgan May and Abigail Fitzpatrick each bring something unique to the squad. Moore is the ball-handing point guard who transferred from Clinton last season. May is the go-to post player and Fitzpatrick, who hadn't played basketball since middle school, has become a rebound machine, leading the team with nine rebounds a night.
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"Abigail hadn’t played since eighth grade and she’s night and day for us when she is out there. She has her hands on every loose ball and gets along with everyone really well," Leever said. "It’s kind of nice to have four seniors and the mature leadership that goes along with that."
The Hilltoppers (16-8) are coming off an overtime battle against Central A&M — a 69-68 loss. But Hayes brought her A-game against the Raiders, scoring 40 points and shooting 16-for-16 from the free-throw line.
Hayes, a 2016-17 and 2017-18 All-State honorable mention selection, is apprehensive at being considered the best girls basketball player to ever take the court in Mount Pulaski, but she hopes her example can bring more girls into basketball.
"I don’t really like being in the spotlight so that is an awkward question for me," Hayes said. "I hope I leave some kind of legacy for the younger girls. Basketball has changed so much, now at the AAU events there are hundreds of teams and thousands of girls that want to play basketball and go to college for it. That was not really a thing four years ago.
"I’ve seen it grow so much from my freshman year so I hope that my team can inspire girls to play basketball for fun."
Hayes, a self-described nerd, has the stats to back up that claim, too. She's the school's valedictorian with a 4.26 GPA. Next season she will take the basketball court at the University of Illinois-Springfield with a major focused on law.
Becoming a one-sport athlete will give Hayes a much needed break.
"It’s go to school, practice, go to sleep. Go to school, practice, go to sleep. And sometimes, go to school, have a game, go to sleep," she said. "I’m going to be too old for AAU this summer so I’m not going to know what to do with myself when I have a break."
For Leever, the level of work Hayes puts in is rare in the high school game.
"Day in, day out, offensively, defensively, in practice, on the floor in the game — you can’t ask for much more than what you get out of Skylar," he said. "Physically she is in the gym seven days a week and all summer long. If her shot isn’t falling she is in the gym fixing it. Those type of kids are getting fewer and far between. She’s top of her class in the classroom and I don’t know where she finds time for everything but she does.
"She started for us as a freshman and it didn’t take too long until other teams were like, ‘We have to stop No. 21.’ She’s going to be missed, there are going to be some huge shoes to fill."
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten