Monday is the first day squads could take to the court for games. That includes all three area teams. The following is a capsule took at each:
Since the Hornets joined the Heart of Illinois Conference, they have been the preeminent program. Eureka has posted a 59-3 record with four outright titles and a shared one. This past spring, they went a perfect 13-0 overall and 12-0 in the HOIC.
Needless to say, the bullseye is rather large.
“I do not see that way just because it’s Eureka. It’s just a characteristic of the HOI,” stated Hornets’ head coach Jerry Prina. “I do not know if everybody’s bringing their best game because we’re Eureka, We ran the gauntlet last (spring), but we had three or four close games. Anybody can beat anybody, especially the top half. There’s a lot of parity among the top five or six. You never know who will emerge. “
The headliners among the returnees are 5-foot-10 junior guard Ellie Cahill (18.3 points and 3.6 steals per game), who was named first team all-state as well as the HOIC, and another first team league choice in 5-10 junior forward Ella Ausmus (9.2 points, 8.2 rebounds). Also back are senior guards Ashley Nohl and McKenzie Greene along with junior guard Reagan Linder. Eureka averaged 54 points per contest and allowed just 32.5.
Their first eight games will be away that includes four true road affairs and four neutral.
“The fact is we know what’s coming. We’ve been here before,” pointed out Prina, who enters his 11th season with a record of 198-80, “We’ve been playing in this Pontiac/Prairie Central tournament for six years now. We know what to expect.”
After just 13 games during the spring, Eureka is scheduled for 30 before the postseason starts.
“The kids have been looking forward to it,” Prina said. “We were not sure if we would have our summer league. They had all of the protocols in place at the start. By the end of the league, it was all back to normal.”
The Hornets open tonight at 8 p.m. with the hosts in the Prairie Central Turkey Invitational at Fairbury. The round robin event also includes East Peoria, Mahomet-Seymour and Pontiac. It will conclude on Saturday.
Notes: Eureka has won the last four McLean County tournaments in which it has been held. The pandemic wiped the tourney out in January. They are also the holder of the McLean Co. traveling trophy, which the Hornets acquired March 2 with a 57-48 triumph over guest Tremont
Eureka’s biggest threat could come from the Knights, who were 11-2 in the spring and 10-2 in the league.
“Since we’ve won a regional and conference, I think we have a target on our back,” pointed out head coach Mitch Neally. “We cannot sneak up on anybody. With most of our team back, we should be able to compete with Eureka.”
That is fueled by the fact Fieldcrest returns 89 percent of their offensive production. Junior guard Haley Carver scored a team-best 13.2 points per game and sank 41 three-pointers. She is followed by first team HOIC pick in junior guard Ashlyn May (12.8 ppg, 4.6 assists and 4 steals), senior forward Ella Goodrich (9.8 ppg, 5.2 rebounds), sophomore guard Kaitlin White (6.3 ppg) and junior guard Carolyn Megow (6 ppg).
“It’s always good when you bring girls back,” said Neally, who starts his seventh season at Fieldcrest with a record of 114-47. “You can bring those players back, but if they did not make any improvements, it does you no good. I think our girls made some improvements. We bring a lot of key girls back. It definitely helps things in terms of transition.”
They averaged 53.5 ppg and surrendered 38.1.
The Knights are set for 29 regular season games.
“It’s a huge relief. We’re definitely glad to have a full schedule,” Neally noted, “We felt blessed to play last (spring) with such a young team. We played a lot of sophomores and juniors. Being able to play was very important.”
They start today at 5:30 p.m. versus Dwight in the Stone Seed Invite at Flanagan-Cornell. Ottawa Marquette and the hosts round out the squads in the round robin event.
Notes: On Saturday, the Knights will play a crossover versus a team from the Seneca pool with a 5:30 p.m. likely against Serena or the host Irish. According to Neally, sophomore Riley Burton will be out for the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee suffered in the offseason
Even with the addition of Dwight, the Tri-County Conference has decided to stick with the home-and-home format. This means the six teams will play a total of 12 league contests.
Among its proponents is Rockets’ head coach Todd Nafziger.
“I like that. You get the chance to go into two different environments,” he said. “You feel comfortable playing at home, or at least you should. It also gives you the opportunity, after you play a team once, to see what they do and make some adjustments.”
In the spring, R-B (8-3, 7-2) placed second behind Seneca (11-1, 8-1). The Rockets graduated four-time first team league choice in point guard Maddie Monge (11.8 ppg), who holds program’s career scoring record with 1,358 points. Sophomore forward Kaylea Randall, who averaged 10.4 ppg and pulled down 9.5 rebounds, has transferred to El Paso-Gridley.
Back in the fold are sophomore forward Jasmine Garmin (7.4 ppg), senior forward Frannie Heckman (6.2 ppg, 6.6 rebounds), senior guard Kylar Kennell, senior guard McKinzie Kearfott and junior guard Lexi Weldon. R-B scored 44.4 ppg and yielded 40.1.
“I think we have to find a way to get the job done offensively and defensively,” explained Nafziger, who begins his fourth season with a 26-40 mark. “It’s going to be hard and limited with the low numbers we have. There’s a lot of young kids playing varsity minutes,”
After a shortened spring, the Rockets have 30 games on the docket prior to regional competition,
“That’s great,” Nafziger said. “From what I’ve heard, we’re still going to be with the masks. With a full schedule, I’m not sure how we’ll adapt.”
R-B plays the hosts tonight with a 7 p.m. tip in the Lexington Classic. Le Roy, Peoria Heights/Quest and Ridgeview complete the field in the round robin event, which wraps up Friday.
Notes: With only nine out, the Rockets will not play any junior varsity contests. The 8-3 spring campaign was the program’s first winning season since 2015-16. Henry continues a co-op with Lowpoint-Washburn. Ottawa Marquette will host the conference tournament