With defending Black Diamond West champion Sesser-Valier having just one returning starter and state qualifier Goreville having lost its top six players, both will have big jobs ahead of them to repeat their efforts.
Meanwhile, Chester has five starters back, and Christopher three, leaving them with high hopes that they can challenge for the conference title.
“A lot of teams will be rebuilding this year,” said Chester coach Brad Norman.
Chester (22-9, 9-3 BDCW) has never won the conference since the league spit into two conferences for the 2003-04 season. The Yellow Jackets are led by two all-conference players: senior forward Keith Kiner III, who averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds a game, and junior forward Ian Reith, who averaged 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last year as a part-time starter.
The other returning starters are senior guards Drake Bollman, Jake Cushman and Colin Wingerter, who all averaged around 6 points a game.
“Cushman and Wingerter are going to fill the point guard role,” Norman said. “This team is similar to last year’s team in that we’re going to try to take advantage of the mismatch and work inside out. We’re going to try to dictate the momentum and are going to be more efficient to get better buckets close to the rim, especially with our size advantage. Defensively we’re going to show a couple different fronts.”
Christopher (20-9, 8-4 BDCW) will have to replace all-conference players Bradley Young, who was the second leading scorer in school history, and Jared Curry.
Coach Eric Stallman has three returning starters in senior shooting guard Dalton Saeger, senior center Gage Hawkins and junior guard Bryce Pratt, along with key bench players from last year in junior guard Gabriel Motsinger and sophomore point guard Kye Garver.
“There will definitely be some growing pains with points being a little harder to come by,” Stallman said. “The kids we have are working hard, but we’ll be different because we won’t be scoring as much. I think by the end of the season we’ll have it figured out.”
Christopher opened the season this week by hosting the 44th annual Turkey Tournament with freshman Mason Goins working his way into the rotation. The Bearcats defeated Webber Township, 50-37, and Wayne City, 65-63, to advance to Saturday night’s championship game against Greater Egyptian powerhouse Thompsonville.
Sesser-Valier (21-12, 11-1 BDCW) is coming off its first title by itself since 2008 and the first since sharing the title with Trico in 2014 and with Christopher and Trico in 2015.
Coach Shane Garner lost four starters, including 1,000 scorer Lukas Gunter, but he has back All-Conference Captain senior guard Tyler Winchester, who averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds a game along with senior strong forward Seth Boles and senior wing guard Eli Gunter. Also back are junior point guard Peyton Bates and junior shooting guard Logan Kirk.
Also in the mix are point guard Reid Basso and forward Gavin Gunter (both seniors), junior wing guard Tanner Eubanks, sophomore wing guard Garrett Gunter and freshman point guard Gavin Woodland.
“We’re probably going to go nine guys deep,” Garner said. “We’re still going to be up-tempo and continue with our full-court press and man-to-man defense.”
Goreville (23-12, 6-6 BDCW) won their first sectional and super sectional titles ever, ending up with a fourth-place finish at state. The Blackcats are coming off a fourth place finish in the conference after winning the title the year before.
Coach Todd Tripp has a major rebuilding project after losing 2,000 point scorer Braden Webb, a conference MVP and all-stater, as well as 1,000 point scorers and all-conference selections Peyton Massey and Tanner Dunn, guard Peyton Geyman and forward Cole Tosh, along with sixth man Morgan Bishop.
“Last year was exciting and fun and now reality has hit,” Tripp said. “We lost about 4,500 points from that team, and now we’re regrouping.”
The players with the most experience are senior guard Logyn Frassato, junior forwards Landon Albright and Trent Glidewell and junior point guard Luke Brown. Also in the mix are junior forward Chase Quigley, sophomore guard Kanon Webb, sophomore forward Rhet Schuetz and freshman guard Briley Dunn.
“We’re going to build around Albright, who led us in field goal percentage,” Tripp said. “Glidewell played quite a bit as a sophomore and Frassato was one of our best defensive players. Brown, who will run the point for us, got more minutes towards the postseason and played good in Peoria. He’s going to be big contributor this year.”
Trico (12-18, 5-7 BDCW) is coming off a fifth place finish, but first-year coach Dan King, who was the boys JV coach, returns two starters: senior forward Carter Naile and junior forward Nick Compton, as well as part-time starter point guard Seth Levan,a junior.
“What I saw over the summer was we have good team chemistry, but the main thing I saw is, the kids really want to win,” King said.
In the mix are junior guards Isaac Kranawetter, Jessie Smith and Nikolis Lissimore, and senior forward Jacob Lodge, who returns to program after two years.
“Our rotation will go eight to 10,” King said. “We’re athletic, that’s for sure. We can run, jump, pass and shoot. However, we have to get better on the defensive end.”
Vienna (8-19, 3-9 BDCW) finished sixth and lost six seniors, but has two returning starters to work with: senior point guard Justin Casey and senior 6-4 forward Gabe Snell.
“I’ve got 11 guys with seven of them competing for starting spots,” said Vienna coach Cory Waters. “This year’s team will be young and inexperienced, with only Casey and Snell playing significant minutes.”
Junior Matthew Naese will get significant time along with sophomores Brendan Dahncke, Lane Ross and Carter Bishop.
Ziegler-Royalton (0-23, 0-12) has no where to go but up. Coach Matt Morgan has six full or part-time starters back along with six others with varsity experience to start a new chapter.
“Last year we went through quite a few growing pains,” Morgan said. “We played six or seven freshmen and three sophomores last year, so we have those back and two seniors with a couple freshmen who are going to get some minutes. We’re going to play 10 or 11 again this year and are still going to be really young, but (with)the experience they got last year and their offseason commitment, I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
The Tornadoes opened the season at the Christopher Turkey Tournament with the staring lineup of junior guards David Eldridge and Dalton Humphrey, sophomore guard Trevor Mills, and two sophomores up front as well -- center Gannon Dollins and Rick Chekevdia.