It is a late season practice at Rock Island High School, and the rest of the girls basketball team is taking a brief break to catch its breath and grab a drink of water.

Brea Beal is at the free throw line. She is taking shot after shot.

Each of those shots are drops in the bucket toward earning a scholarship at South Carolina, being named a three-time Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year and three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball.

It’s mid-April and Beal is walking into Beyond the Baseline with her father Kevin, looking to get some work in before heading to the Jordan Brand Classic in Las Vegas.

Each lonely moment in the gym has helped Beal become one of the top basketball players to ever come out of the Quad-Cities.

The accolades and stats are a culmination of why Beal has been named the Quad-City Times' 2019 Female Athlete of the Year.

Beal is the second girl from Rock Island to capture the honor, the first since Michelle Braud in 1983.

"When people talk about Rock Island High School, I want people to be like, 'That's the school Brea Beal went to,'" Beal said. "That's the type of attitude I want people to have. I want a lot of girls to be excited to get up here ... understand this is a good program and a good school with good coaches."

Growing up versatile

Basketball has been the focus for Beal since she was in fourth grade. That wasn’t always the case.

Along with basketball, Beal grew up playing soccer and softball and also participated in swimming and gymnastics.

"It was very tiring," she said. "It was rough but I'm glad I played a lot of different sports and was able to maneuver my way out to find the sport I wanted to stick with."

Although she ended up specializing, all that time spent playing other sports helped her when she narrowed her focus down to one.

"It built a lot of fundamentals," Beal said. "It was just the little things that sometimes you can't even learn in basketball. In gymnastics, making you a lot more flexible. Soccer, the endurance and being able to have footwork. Those sports built a lot of fundamentals to be able to play basketball and be as good as I am now.

"I think I would lack a lot of athleticism if I didn't play the other sports. When it comes to the footwork, I think I'd be a little off and there would have been a lot more hours put into the gym than I already have."

A special four years

The list of Beal's accomplishments seems to go on and on.

She never lost on her home court. She never lost in 40 Western Big Six Conference games.

She finished her high school career as the all-time leading scorer in conference history with 2,709 points and added 1,306 rebounds, both top 20 all-time in Illinois.

She joined WNBA star Candace Parker as the only girl from Illinois to win Ms. Basketball in three straight years.

Beal was named an all-stater all four years and earned All-American honors from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and Jersey Mike's Naismith third team All-American honors this season.

Beal averaged 24.9 points, 13.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.4 blocks and 3.4 steals for the 30-2 Rocks this past winter.

But for all those individual accolades, her willingness to do what it takes to make the team better is what stands out to those around her.

"When your best player in June, when it's summer, is on the ground, diving for loose balls, you know you have someone special," Rock Island head coach Henry Hall said. "She buys into the team concept, she's a team basketball player.

"To be honest with you, she could probably get 50 points a game if she wanted to, but she's probably the most unselfish 2,500-point scorer I've ever seen in my life."

And Beal is often quick to deflect from her individual accomplishments. She takes pride in making the younger players better.

"It’s always good accomplishing things, but for the younger people, I love encouraging them, especially because they are a lot younger than me," Beal said. "I like telling them where they could be in the future."

A quiet confidence

For someone who has been in the spotlight for more than four years, Beal’s personality remains a quiet one, not quick to brag about her talent or accomplishments.

“Brea is not a real vociferous type of kid,” said Ralph Gesualdo, Beal's AAU coach at Midwest Elite. “She’s kind of quiet and stays to herself.”

That personality transfers over to the basketball court.

“She’s not brash,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “Her game is, you look at it and see her play 32 minutes in a high school game, and at the end of the game she’s probably got a triple double and you don’t even see it, because she goes about her way quietly and just handles her business.

“You’re not going to see her always on the highlight reel, but she’s as steady as it comes. She’s a stat filler in every category.”

Staley doesn’t see any reason why Beal can’t take that game to the next level and enjoy early success when she steps on the college court this fall.

“If she keeps that attitude, she already has a sponsor in the room in me. I’ll sponsor her to play heavy minutes for us,” Staley said. “Because when you come in and you’re that selfless, but you’re good … you know you can count on somebody like her because it comes from a place of wanting to win.

“You can’t lose with a player like that.”

Lasting legacy

The impact Beal has had on girls basketball in the Quad-Cities was perhaps first fully realized three years ago.

The annual Iowa vs. Illinois girls basketball shootout had fallen on hard times, a lack of organization and excitement turning it into a shell of its boys counterpart, some teams having to play two games in day and others refusing to participate.

When Gary Thrapp took over the event in 2016, he knew he needed a game that would grab the attention of the community.

The timing — and Thrapp’s luck — couldn’t be better.

He scheduled the Rocks, and their star sophomore Beal, against Davenport North and Jinaya Houston, who had committed to play at the University of Iowa, for the nightcap of the new IHMVCU Shootout.

Augustana's Carver Center was standing room only, more than 2,400 fans packing the arena to see a showdown between two of the area's top teams and star players.

“It helped me be confident it was going to work when I got those teams committed,” Thrapp said. “We had some Division I coaches there, including (Iowa coach) Lisa Bluder who said, ‘Man, this is what girls basketball is all about.’ When you get feedback like that, that makes you feel like all the efforts were worth it.

“Who would not want to watch one of the best players in the country play? ... Brea brought so much attention to it."

Beal didn't disappoint in that game, scoring 32 points, hauling in nine rebounds, grabbing two steals and leaving a big impression.

"That set the tone. When you're watching all those fans around the Carver Center, packing the place to watch girls basketball, I just think she's done huge things for the Quad-Cities girls basketball and hopefully we're going to build on this and take off from here," North Scott coach TJ Case said. "She's been a special person to watch play the game."

Case and the Lancers had an up-close look at Beal this year. In the final game of the IHMVCU Shootout, Beal had 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead Rock Island over North Scott.

In three IHMVCU Shootout games, Beal averaged 27 points and 11.7 rebounds.

Beal always seemed to perform well in big games and moments. In January, Beal poured in an astounding 107 points, grabbed 49 rebounds and had 18 assists, 12 blocks and 10 steals over three games — all on the same day — to lead Rock Island to a DeKalb MLK Classic title.

In a sectional championship game against Edwardsville in February, Beal scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Rocks to a 51-45 win over the team that had ended their season the past four seasons. It was Rock Island’s first sectional title since 1991.

"I hope I'm still alive when we come to a point where we stop calling it girls and boys basketball, and it's just basketball," Pleasant Valley head coach Jennifer Goetz said. "Watching her play, she just plays basketball."

After four superlative years at Rock Island, Beal is most proud of becoming a role model to the younger generation, showing them its possible to achieve any dream.

"Being able to show the little girls that you can do this," Beal said. "They say, 'I want to be like you.' No, I want you to be more than that.

"Go be the best at whatever you can."

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