The month of November will engineer in two sports for the boys, one on the hardcourt and the other on the mats. Below is a synopsis of each with roundball first:
The Rockets are the two-time regular season outright Tri-County Conference champions. This past spring, they finished with a record of 13-3 overall and 12-0 in the league, as R-B prevailed by a comfortable three games (four on the loss side). Among the departures via graduation are 6-foot-9 all-state center Luke Braman (19.9 points per game, 11.4 rebounds pg), who was a two-time first team league pick and tabbed the TCC’s top player, and guard James Early (8.5 ppg).
The good news is that R-B returns their point guard in first- team selection senior Joel Weber, who averaged 10.1 ppg. Another feather in their camp is the fact 6-3 senior forward Chase Martin (6.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg), who fractured the fibula and tibia in his left leg in early May on the baseball diamond, has been medically cleared to play.
With Braman no longer around, the Rockets do not possess a post presence.
“I’m not concerned about it,” explained R-B coach Abe Zeller. “We’ll going to be five out. We’ll be more spread on offense."
Also back are senior guards Luke Getz and Luke Sauder for the Rockets, who scored 54.1 ppg and allowed 39.1.
According to Zeller (14th season at R-B, 211-154 record), there does not appear to be a prohibitive favorite in the TCC.
“This year is kind of semi wide open,” said Zeller, who named Midland, Ottawa Marquette and Putnam County as the three squads he projects will seek the top spot. The Timberwolves and OM tied for second in the spring.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were limited to 16 games in the spring, but that number will nearly double with 30 on the slate.
“It feels good. The normalcy is you can set goals besides winning games and getting better,” commented Zeller, a Gridley native. “That allows for more focus and energy.
“We have the pieces to make for a good group, but there’s some inexperience with the COVID year.”
R-B open the El Paso-Gridley Classic Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. versus Olympia. East Peoria and the host Titans are the other squads in the round robin event, which continues Friday and wraps up Saturday.
Notes: According to Zeller, after the completion of the junior varsity contest Dec. 10 in the home opener against league foe Henry at Dick Broers Gymnasium, one A state medals will be handed out to the 2019-20 team that set the single season program record with a mark of 36-1. The only other contest at DBG before January is Dec. 14 when Peoria Heights arrives. The Rockets won the last TCC tourney contested in late January of ‘20. Dwight joins the TCC. East Peoria replaces Hartsburg-Emden at EP-G. Braman and his 1,093 points are 10th most in program history
The last time the Hornets played when Tim Meiss was not the head coach was Feb. 25, 1985, when they fell in the postseason opener 91-63 to Flanagan.
His son-in-law, Aaron Dohner, moves up after 17 seasons in the junior varsity ranks.
When asked how he plans to put his own stamp on the program, he answered, “I’ve thought about that. I’m a different person. I’m going to teach some different things. It may be the same philosophy, but it’s my own thoughts. It’s the way I want. You’re never really ready until you’re in that situation or position.”
Eureka went 11-2 over the spring and 10-2 in the Heart of Illinois Conference. The Hornets bring back 6-2 senior guard and first team league choice Trevor Heffren (16.9 ppg) along with senior guards Collin Short and JD Standish. Another returnee is 6-3 sophomore guard Tyler Heffren. Eureka averaged 65.1 points per contest and surrendered 48.7.
The Hornets are scheduled for 30 regular season contests.
“I think it’s great,” said Dohner, who is the husband of Meiss’ daughter, volleyball coach Lena Dohner, “You get away from the uncertainty of last year. We started in November, had two practices and then were shut down. It’s something we’re looking forward to. I’m excited, the guys are excited.”
In terms of the HOIC, there does not seem to be a clearcut favorite. That creates the possibility the first place squad with at least a defeat and possibly multiple.
“The conference is going to be very competitive,” said Dohner, who directed the JV squad to a spotless 13-0 record in the spring, “There could be some new faces who opted out last year and are back. The top team could have two losses.”
Eureka faces Peoria Christian today at 6 p.m. in the Peoria Heights Invite. Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Peoria Quest and the host Patriots are the other teams in the round robin event. The contest with DCM, which takes place Saturday with a 4 p.m. tip, will not count in the league standings.
Notes: One of the Hornets’ starters in that ’85 contest was Thad Heffren, the father of Trevor and Tyler. Trevor Heffren has scored 827 points and could get to 1,000 Dec. 18 when they tangle with East Peoria in the Eureka College Shootout at the Reagan Athletic Complex. Eureka is the possessor of the McLean County traveling trophy, which they captured March 2 with a 57-40 victory at DCM
While Mike Krzyzewski is making national headlines in lieu of his 42nd and final season at Duke, on the local level, Matt Winkler will bid adieu after his 30th and last year as the Knights’ only coach.
“To be truthful, I have not really thought about it,” commented the Hall of Famer, who sports a sparkling 606-206 record. “I’m just going about my business. I’m doing my best to get our team as prepared as possible. It’s not about me, it’s about the kids.”
During the spring, Fieldcrest started 1-1 then won their last 11 to share the HOIC crown with Le Roy with identical 12-1 overall and 11-1 league records, respectively. They graduated their entire 11-player roster that included four-year starter at the point in Jaxon Cusac-McKay (16.7 ppg), who was tabbed to the league’s first squad for the second time, along with another first-teamer in Henry Lorton. Other departures included Cory Land, Andrew May and twins Bryce and Noah Nordstrom.
According to Winkler, he is doing more instruction than in any of his previous seasons on the sideline.
“We bring back zero varsity points for the first time ever,” he simplified. “We’re very young and inexperienced. We want to get better after every practice and every game.”
The Knights scored 60.4 ppg and allowed 46.8.
They played 13 contests in the spring and that number will climb to 29.
“Very fortunate, but it’s not a given we’re going to finish the season with the outbreak of COVID at the middle school,” Winkler cautioned. “We are blessed to be back in the gym. We’ll do what we can to get through the season.”
Fieldcrest starts with a league tilt against guest Lexington on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. That will be one of just two home contests out of the first 14. Of those, seven will be of the neutral variety.
Notes: The other home date is Dec. 14 opposite Olympia. Cusac-McKay is fourth on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,396 points
Although the prep sports scene is not 100 percent back to normal, it is headed in the right direction as it pertains to the grapplers. Due to COVID, last season was shifted from the winter to spring, but it is back in its traditional time frame.
“It’s huge, huge,” pointed out Eureka coach Doug Ferguson. “Last year was just a mess. It hurt our numbers. Being on the mats in the spring and summer when it’s hot was not a high priority for a high school kid. It did not jive well.”
In addition, the Hornets will have a total of 19 duals. They return seniors Garrett Kean (8-5) and Noah King, junior twins Derrick and Dillon Wiles, along with classmate Landon Wierenga, plus sophomore Wyatt Zacha.
Eureka decided not to score any meets during the spring, but that element returns this season.
“We will,” said Ferguson, who is season number nine at his alma mater with a record of 69-78, “For me, it still boils down to the postseason. We’re still going to have problems rounding out a lineup.”
According to Ferguson, he expects to have 16 out as opposed to eight or nine during the spring.
He envisions the strength of the squad will be in the middle weight divisions.
“(One) 45, 52, 60, 70, 82, all those classes we should be real solid,” he noted. “After 82, we do not have any varsity experience.”
The Hornets begin Saturday at 9 a.m. with the Illini Bluffs Invite at Glasford. The first dual is Tuesday at home versus Midwest Central/Illini Central with a 5:30 p.m. start.