SIRR Mississippi has always been one of the most competitive leagues in Southern Illinois and this winter should be no exception.
While Carterville is a clear favorite, there appear to be no easy outs, particularly when one hits the road. Nashville has one of the best scorers in the area and rarely allows its opponent to speed it up. Anna-Jonesboro has become a winner with good defense and 3-point shooting.
Du Quoin returns one of the most experienced teams around and is also tough on defense, while Pinckneyville offers a roster full of good athletes who just need to score the basketball better to unlock their potential.
An alphabetical look at the teams appears below.
Hard work on the defensive end has made the Wildcats a steady winner under Matt Denny. They broke through with 23 victories in 2018-19, came heartbreakingly close to winning a regional two years ago and then went 7-5 in last year’s mini-season, finishing with a home victory over Carterville.
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While A-J graduated three starters, including top scorers Anna Hess and Jaley Watkins, it is off to a 2-0 start behind the likes of Addison Denny, Marlee Smith and Brodie Denny.
Addison Denny averaged 7 points and 12 rebounds per game last year, while Smith, a cancer survivor, is a capable 3-point shooter. Jenna Sadler adds depth to the backcourt and Macie George gets the call at center.
“The conference is loaded with experience and we are young so we will have to grow up in a hurry,” Matt Denny said. “We play a very tough schedule, so we better be ready. Some people will have to step into scoring roles, but that hasn’t been a problem in the past.”
One could make the argument that if Southern Illinoisan Player of the Year Alecia Doyle were the only returnee to the Lions, they could be the favorite. After all, Doyle averaged 20.1 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game last season as Carterville went 14-2.
But as the commercial says, wait, there’s more. Like Doyle’s younger sister, Amayah, the big-time softball prospect who’s also pretty good at shooting round balls into iron hoops. Amayah averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds last season.
And there’s also Kasha Ward, a good athlete who can defend and add scoring punch when needed. And for good measure, there’s former A-J guard Kristin Edmonds, who transferred in from a Missouri school where she played last year.
The games aren’t played on 8x11 sheets of paper, so the Lions still have to earn their laurels. But with proven talent on the floor and a successful coach in Todd Rogers calling the shots, a deep postseason run isn’t illogical.
“We will have to make some adjustments to counter the loss of our two starting post players from last year, but fortunately, we have some players that can play inside and out to fill that void,” Rogers said.
In his 15th season on the bench, coach Shawn File might have one of his better teams. The Indians went 7-6, 5-5 in the COVID-19 season and welcome back three starters, plus a plethora of good athletes to play shutdown defense.
Two-time all-conference performer Lauren Heape is the marquee name, although two-year starter Abbi Mocaby and guard Grace Alongi can’t be ignored. Emma Fischer and Olivia Phillips round out a senior class that’s enjoyed plenty of success in other sports.
Juniors Ella Davis, Loveleen Dunklin and Sophie Hill add even more athletic ability to the roster.
“I think we will be a fun team to watch,” File said. “We return three starters with significant varsity experience as well as juniors with a ton of time at the varsity level.”
Du Quoin allowed just 80 points in its first three games, but will need to up its scoring to threaten for a conference title. A 38-31 loss to Christopher Friday night shined a spotlight on that weakness.
The names change, as do the coaches every once in a while. But the winning formula stays the same for the Hornettes. Find a go-to player on offense, frustrate opponents with a slow pace and work hard on the defensive end.
Veteran coach Doug Althoff has those ingredients again this winter, led by senior forward Alyssa Cole. One of the best scorers in Southern Illinois, Cole can stick the 3-pointer, beat you off the dribble or create points off post moves with instructional film-quality footwork.
Around her are solid role players like Jordan Donato, Halle Rueter, Emily Schnitker, Daphne Kollbaum and Talanie Kozuszek. Most of them can hit a 3-pointer when needed, some can handle the ball and all are willing to play good defense.
If one of them can step up to help Cole with the scoring on a consistent basis, Nashville will probably approach 20 wins again and be a postseason threat.
All five starters return from a team that went just 5-7 last season. The Panthers could easily land on the right side of .500 if they can figure out how to make the ball go through the hoop.
“We struggle to put the ball in the basket even after running good offense or getting a turnover,” said coach Alan Engelhardt.
Pinckneyville hopes another year of experience will make shooting touches a bit softer and perhaps create better shots. Moe Morgenthaler is the top scorer at 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while senior Lily Tanner (7.7 ppg, 7.2 rebounds) is a returning all-conference player.
Emily Ruppert is back after contributing 4.8 points and 4.1 boards, but her main strength is defense. She averaged 3.1 steals per game, an advertisement for her abundant athletic skills.
Engelhardt wants to make the game “ugly and a bit chaotic,” but admits his team needs to develop one more reliable player off the bench in order to keep fatigue from becoming a factor.