The Okawville Rockets have been a model of consistency under Jon Kraus. Since the 2000-01 season the Rockets have won nine regional titles, six sectional titles with two state appearances finishing second three years ago and winning the state title two years ago under his leadership.
Kraus has compiled a 388-237 record since he took over for legendary coach Dave Luechtefeld, who posted a 711-340 record during his 37-year tenure.
Last year the Rockets finished 21-13, losing 71-68 to Triopia in the Class 1A Super-Sectional.
Kraus has to replace eight seniors and three starters, including All-South guard/forward Will Aibel. However he has 6-foot-9 senior center Jackson Heckert and junior guard Lucas Frederking to build around.
“We have some kids who can shoot, but I don’t know how consistent we’ll be,” Kraus said. “We’ve been a fairly guard/forward type team without a lot of post up, but this year we have a true big kid inside.”
Also back are two juniors, sixth man guard Jacksen Harre and 6-7 forward Mason Meyer who will start. Junior guard Tyler Parsley, junior forward Daniel Jansen, sophomore guard Ethan Riechmann, junior guard Caleb Unverfehrt and junior forward Ethan Kolweier are in the mix.
“We can space the floor, shoot the 3’s and try to get up the floor on fast break and be fun to watch,” Kraus said.
Steeleville, a member of the Cahokia Conference finished 19-14 last year. It took double overtime before the upstart Warriors were eliminated by Sesser-Valier in the regional championship game.
“Last year was one of our better seasons, but we’re looking to make that a low number for us the next few years,” said coach Aaron Fiene. “We hadn’t had any regional final experience yet and to play in a big game like that is key to us this year. We look forward to playing in another one very soon and hopefully winning it.”
Fiene lost two starters in Owen Gross and Brad Mevert along with three other key players, but he has six experienced players returning.
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“We have back three senior starters in Jordan Wilson, who is a true power forward, and guards Austin Hagel and Jacob Sutton,” Fiene said. “We also got a 6-4 sophomore who will probably start Chase Newby at forward. Drew Gerlach is a 6-0 senior guard who will get some time as will 6-0 sophomore guard Zach Mevert, who’s a tremendous athlete.”
Woodlawn from the Midland Trail Conference is coming off its best season in four years finishing with a 26-6 record and a regional title in Brian Gamber’s third season.
“We lost in the Super-Sectional three years ago and went 21-8 the next year, but lost in the regional championship and last year in the sectional final, so we’ve had a pretty good run,” Gamber said. “Last year when we lost a starter with an ACL everybody got bumped up and had to step their game up. That will make them better prepared for this year. I think we got a good balance. We don’t have much size and bulk, but we made up for it with athleticism, quickness and length.”
Gamber lost three starters, but he returns senior Blake McKay.
“Blake has started since he was a sophomore,” Gamber said. “Blake was a IBCA second-team all-stater, IHSA third-team all-stater, All-South and the Midland Trail Player of the Year both his sophomore and juniors years.”
Also back are senior Chase Hollenkamp and juniors Hunter England and Jackson Tiemann and Race Rynski coming back from a season-ending injury.
“Race was our second best player the year before and would have started last year, but after five games he blew his ankle out and never came back,” Gamber said. “Now he’s back and will start. Tieman started halfway through for a kid who tore his ACL and finished the year starting for him. Our fifth starter will be Hayden England who became our sixth man when Tieman moves into the lineup.”
Last year Cairo was a tale of two seasons. The Pilots limped into the postseason on a two-game losing streak at 12-17, but in the playoffs Cairo got red hot winning its second straight regional title and fourth in the last six years to finish at 15-18.
Waltonville also from the Midland Trail is coming off two subpar seasons, but there were promising signs as the Spartan improved from 5-19 two years ago to 12-15 in the second year of Coach Anthony Lowery’s tenure. Waltonville’s season ended with a 53-47 loss to NCOE in the regional quarterfinals.