It's been a while since I've done this, so forgive me if I am out of practice....
Greetings Sports Fans and welcome to Duerrisms for the Week of January 10th, 2014. I trust you all had a great Holiday Season and we wish you every happiness going into the New Year. It's a brand new start here at KHQA. We have brand new owners and an exciting new corporate outlook with some very big and exciting changes coming. Selfishly, I also have a full staff again and that certainly makes this time of year fun. Especially with so many great events on the way.
Obviously, I am a little partial, but the KHQA/SUBWAY/Superfan Shootout is always one of the high water marks of my winter. We are just a little under a month way from that two day festival of high school basketball and its probably high time for you to start setting aside time that weekend to come join what has been an historically exciting and well attended showcase of premier basketball talent, both from our area and abroad. For a full synopsis of what's ahead, you can view the slate of games here: http://www.connecttristates.com/sports/story.aspx?id=982619 Remember one price, buys you admission to all twelve games. Come spend as much or as little time as you like in the gym; cherry-pick your favorite games or just come hang around with some really great fellow basketball junkies and eat some really good food with us. I promise, you won't be disappointed. Tickets are available now at all participating schools. And be sure to come up and spend some time with Will and I at the games. That's really the best part of the whole deal for us, getting to talk basketball with all of you in front of some great live hardwood theatre.
With all the Holiday break fun out of the way, we are back to normal around here with the returns of the KHQA Student Athlete of the Week and our Seeds of Greatness Feature on OVERTIME, highlighting the up and coming next generation of Tri State Sports Stars. If you know of a deserving athlete 14 or under, please e-mail me your nominee and rationale at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to profile the best of the bunch.
2013/2014 KHQA STUDENT ATHLETE OF THE WEEK PRESENTED BY SUBWAY, CELL TECH AND PETERS HEATING AND AIR
Now in its ninth year, The KHQA STUDENT ATHLETE OF THE WEEK program strives to honor the Tri State's outstanding Senior achievers. Every Wednesday, we will profile one Senior (minimum 3.5 GPA and participation in one sport) chosen by independent nominating committee for their outstanding accomplishments. And from that pool of 30 honorees, we will award one scholarship each at year's end to the Top Male and Female Student Athlete in our region. Our next committee meeting AND YOUR LAST CHANCE TO GET A WORTHY CANDIDATE CONSIDERED is February 10th. Your favorite High School Athletic Directors and Principals have forms in hand now. Or you can print one out from our website. Help them out by nominating/suggesting a deserving candidate you know from your community. Again, the minimum bar for inclusion is a 3.5 GPA and participation in one Sport or State Activities Board Recognized Activity. And because of the Scholarship component of the award, we can only recognize High School Seniors who graduate in May/June before our annual Awards Banquet. This is a highly competitive process and we are usually inundated with incredible candidates. In that spirit, I suggest that you get your nominee of choice into the voting pool as early as possible to get him/her as many different long looks in the process as possible.
Week One: MACKENZIE GROSSMANN, Mark Twain Softball/Basketball/Track
Week Two: MITCHELL NICHOLS, Hannibal Football/Basketball/Track
Week Three: LANE DAVIS, Unity Basketball/Football
Week Four: BRETT GENENBACHER, Liberty Cross Country/Basketball/Track
Week Five: ALEMA STONE, Macomb Football
Week Six: LUKE WATSON, Quincy Notre Dame Cross Country
Week Seven: BETHANY RAGER, Scotland County Softball/Basketball
Week Eight: MELANIE BLASE, Hannibal Volleyball, Basketball, Track and Field
Week Nine: ZACH BURRY, Quincy High Golf/Basketball
Week Ten: COLE PHILLIPS, Camp Point Central Football/Basketball/Baseball
Week Eleven: CASSIDY JOHNSTON, South Shelby Basketball/Softball/Track/Cross Country
Week Twelve: RACHEL MENCEL, West Prairie Volleyball
Week Thirteen: HAILEA HADSALL, Macomb Golf
Past Scholarship Winners
2013: KASSIDY GENGENBACHER, Quincy Notre Dame (Lindenwood University)
DALTON POWELL, Hannibal High School (Truman State University)
2012: ALEX WALTER, Central High (Augustana College)
TORI KUHN, Quincy Notre Dame (Quincy University)
2011: JACOB CONLEY, Central High (U.S. Military Academy at West Point)
DAKOTA FLESNER, Payson Seymour (Iowa Wesleyan)
2010: MICHAEL LAFFERTY, Illini West (Monmouth College)
TAYLOR BAXTER, Palmyra (Illinois State)
2009: MATT PATTERSON, South Shelby (Truman State)
CHLOE BARNES, Quincy Notre Dame (Ball State University)
2009: LUKE GUTHRIE, Quincy High (University of Illinois)
2007: KATELYN BASTERT, Illini West (Duke University)
2006: MIKAL BENECOMO, Clopton (Southeast Missouri State)
KHQA Boys Basketball Power Rankings
1) CANTON TIGERS
Lots of worthy candidates at the top but my rationale is laid out thusly. One, the Tigers are undefeated at full strength this season (loss at Palmyra came with at least 12-15 points sitting on the bench in the person of the injured Brandon Berhorst) Two, they appear to be the best constructed group of the lot with a legit floor general (and arguably the area's purest point guard in Tyler Niemann) as well as a legit post presence and as much wing athleticism as any small school team should be allowed to sport. Thirdly, Andy Anderson's team has the area's bankable scoring balance and the ability to get double digit points on any given night from any of the five guys on the floor. Fourth and most importantly: playing in Missouri Class 2 affords the most viable avenue to a State Berth, relative to everybody else. My standard, remember, for these kinds of power polls is what team has the best chance to win big against the schedule it plays; not so much which team would beat which in a hypothetical heads-up game. If you honestly consider that factor, the degree of difficulty in getting to the big dance and the obstacles that entails, who honestly looks like the smartest money bet to be a Final Four team when all is said and done? If they can control tempo (which Tyler Niemann does expertly) and the defense is sound (which seems to be the case nightly with Niemann and Cameron Durst setting a furious pace in transition) these guys are an incredibly tough beat. Lack of depth, particularly up front, is a little concerning but Canton has shown the ability to play small ball very well. It's a hunch but after considered mulling, it's the hunch I feel safest playing. And maybe that is the greatest indictment yet on just how deserving Niemann may be at season's end of Player of the Year consideration.
2) PAYSON SEYMOUR INDIANS
After a shaky first week to the season, Brian Rea masterfully convinced his kids to stop "playing their opponents" and start playing basketball and having fun again. The result has been frighteningly effective. Just ask Liberty, Pittsfield and Unity for staters. In that spirit, the questions here aren't about talent or fit. Payson is a well constructed team with plenty of ceiling still left to reach and a lot of best fit guys. There is no better or more relentless scorer in Tri State Basketball than Cody Hildebrand and his ability to go through contact and score around the basket is the single greatest outlier skill in Tri State Boys Basketball right now. No matter the number of defenders assigned him or the size and strength of the matchup, no one can seem to stop this kid from simply putting the ball in the basket. But the Indians have also done a better job cultivating options around him. When he is locked in, Gage Klitz is the highest impact big man in Western Illinois. His slam dunks and swats garner all the highlights but have you noticed that Gage has also become (a) a pretty fair high post shooter and (b) a vastly unsung distributor on the floor? Important by-products of a team playing with as much chemistry as anyone right now. Lance Buhlig has become an essential piece of that puzzle; maybe from a cerebral standpoint, the most important piece in that he has the best shot discipline on the team and an ingrained sense of unselfishness. He gets other people involved and the recent rise of a Carter Epperson for example owes to Lance trying to facilitate and raise everyone's confidence. The bench is also getting deeper. But let's not forget the most critical, if overlooked, aspect of Payson's return to form: energy. These guys have recaptured swagger and confidence because their is a certain rekindled toughness here. Some of that comes from Hildebrand, obviously. Some of that has come from an edgier Klitz. But let's not forget how much of that "the human bruise" Hunter Flesner brings to the table. Kid makes every hustle play and doesn't demand shots or touches to be effective. He just seems to like that role of energy guy. Bottom line, the puzzle fits together really well right now.
3) FORT MADISON BLOODHOUNDS
On overall record (perfect to date) and strength of schedule these guys should probably top this list. And I'd be lying to you if I told you anyone other than Jon Schmitz was the front-runner for Coach of the Year honors to this point. Credit where credit is due. The man has taken a program that has been largely an afterthought to wrestling in the winter for more than two decades and returned it to a statewide perch it hasn't seen since the salad days of Ryan Bowen. That established, the Hounds burden of greatness is far higher than any other team at the top of this list as well; considering what they would have to go through to bring home a banner. Divorce yourself from that standard, however, and there is a ton to like here. Obviously, so much of the attention here falls on the stronger/bigger edition of Miles Wentzien, who is by every account one of the most special talents in Tri State Basketball. The analogy I make to people who haven't seen the Junior play is that Miles is to Fort Madison what Marcus Smart is to Oklahoma State, except in reverse. Miles is the combo guard who started as a pure point but has become more of a two. He has both the size/athleticism to defeat defenders by either gliding through them or blasting them physically ala vintage Mitch Richmond. The Hounds have fit him with a unique crew of complimentary assets that works far better than anyone imagined going into this year. Wes Bernhardt isn't your central casting pivot. He is a terrific tight end playing high school basketball and enjoying the heck out of beating "basketball guys" with his motor, his power, and his really determined ability to win every trash rebound known to man. Think Blake Hance at Jacksonville and you get Bernhardt. Between Bernhardt and highly versatile and elastic talent Bryson Abbey, the Hounds have created post presence to go with the considerable perimeter skills we thought this team would have. For all the athleticism Abbey poses, there is a certain guile/craftiness to his game as well. He's that dude who is going to be finding ways to beat guys half his age in pick up games 20 years from now because he seems to have an innate instinct for rebounding and body position. He is pretty underrated guy in this mix, given the ability to play both outside and in. Fort Madison has guys who can clearly get shots (Wentzien and David Nagel most obviously) and a really intriguing crew of guys who don't need shots to be effective and who defend like linebackers. It's a very fun mix.
4) PALMYRA PANTHERS
Brian Meny's crew has posted some extremely impressive wins (Canton, Tolton, Louisiana) in its first ten games and clearly there aren't many teams who have the ability to combat all the perimeter firepower the Panthers bring to the table. Most squads would kill for one elite guard. The Panthers have two go-to stars in Trevor Meny (20ppg) and the incendiary Brock Butler (19ppg) and a third guard in Caleb Kizer who is top end athletic. Not to mention a small forward who, when healthy, is as tough as cover as the come in Jordan Nutt. At Max-Q, this may be the hardest team to defend in Tri State Basketball on a given night because they can flat run over you at the offensive end. At their best, the Panthers zip the ball around with laser precision in the half court and create ample three point chances against even the friskiest of zone defenses. Everyone on this team can seemingly shoot the basketball and Trevor Meny is absolutely masterful at finding the guy with the hot hand. Not sure there is a player with better floor vision in Tri State Basketball or who is more careful with that distribution than Trevor given his high usage rate. The kid is an 8 to 1 assist to turnover guy. That speaks volumes. And with four guys capable of scoring 10-20 points a night in the mix and Trevor plying the right kid with the rock, the odds are that Palmyra is always going to find points. There are two concerns here though. One, Palmyra has a funny way of falling into a lethargy and settling for low percentage shots rather than penetrating and taking the time to work the offense at times. That impatience, on the wrong night against the wrong opponent, could be the difference between a trip to Mizzou Arena and an unexpected Sectional loss. Palmyra does have some guys inside who can score and I always feel better about watching these guys play when Bazil Keller gets touches and points early. It's a sign that the Panthers aren't "settling." The other concern here is that the other teams ahead of Palmyra on this list play better interior defense than the Panthers. The right opponent, with the ability to slow pace and pound the ball inside relentlessly, is the type of foe that could make all this beguiling potential unravel in a hurry. The upshot is this. Palmyra has improved light years over last season in correcting its own sins (remember the days of painfully slow starts) and Brian Meny has two more months to fine tune away those perceived weaknesses. The guys doesn't have a state championship for nothing....
5) LIBERTY EAGLES
They were the kings of the Tri State Basketball World and everyone's consensus Top Dog after brutalizing Macomb before the Holidays. And just as quickly, the Eagles were the subject of much head scratching after getting run over at the MVIT by Payson Seymour in a second quarter that was, diplomatically, unexpected. Welcome to the fickle world of Tri State Basketball, where you are adored one minute and excoriated the next. All that knee jerk stuff aside, Andy Douglas has a phenomenal squad on his hands and one that is no less believable as the eventual Winchester Regional Champ as it was before the trip to Mendon. Much has been said and written about Michael Blewett as the Tri State's steadiest, most reliable star and all of it is true. He doesn't get rattled. He plays with the same controlled fire every single set. And he has more utility (distributor, scorer, defender) that a Swiss Army Knife. Blewett's game is about as weakness free as any of the top tier players in our area. And the cast around him is well fit to his skills. The Eagles are long (Connor Klingele, Michael Mast, Austin Mast) and play with great sustained energy from 1st to 4th quarter (see also Blewett, Brett Genenbacher, and Connor Wolf who can run forever without discernable fall-off in their game) They have a bevy of guys who can shoot from distance and mid-range very effectively. They've gotten great pick up with the rise of Reed Wolfmeyer to broaden the bench. And as well as any team in our region, Andy Douglas has gotten his kids to buy in and accept their roles and play to their own particular strengths and (just as importantly) try to cater to the strengths of their teammates. Again, I think we've probably all over-analyzed those middle two quarters against Payson Seymour and not simply conceded the point that maybe Liberty just had a really off night. The Eagles will have plenty of opportunity to atone, starting next week at Winchester and as well as this team is constructed, I don't think anyone will be surprised if they shoot back up to the top of this list in short order.
6) ELSBERRY INDIANS
In a year when we are beset by a shortage of true big men, Kenny Lesley looms even larger. The Indian Pivot and Division One recruit (Iowa, Wichita State, Creighton, Missouri State, Boise State and Central Michigan most actively) is the weapon against which no opponent can compensate. The 6'9" Junior is averaging 24 points, 14 rebounds and nearly 5 blocks per game this season while shooting 66% from the field and nearly 80% from the line. He's even good for 2 steals and 2 assists a night as well. And more to the point, he's getting some really nice help from guards Rodney Chatman (7ppg) and speedster Rahiem Porter (10 points 4 assists per game) in helping to space the floor. Ryan Parker has crafted a very promising young nucleus around his franchise Big Man and in construction, that is going to make Elsberry and incredibly difficult team for opponents to try and match up with. See also the Indians 9-3 record against a very good schedule of up-sized competition.
7) MARION COUNTY MUSTANGS
By their own admission, or at least Reed Plunkett's admission, the Mustangs as a collective (Logan Krigbaum, obviously, was the individual exception) didn't play particularly well in their upset win over Palmyra until "closing time" rolled around. And yet, when things got interesting, these guys found a way to close out one of the best teams in the entire area...in hostile climes, no less. These things we know about the Mustangs. They can still flat out score the basketball with Krigbaum, Luke Stratton and Plunkett leading the brigade of snipers. We also know that Ryan Wood's team is getting some interior production from Brandon Atteberry and Nolan Ryan to compensate for a lack of great size. And we like the young talent in play; the potential of guys like Gavin Booth and Jacob Stratton fleshing out this mix. It's not a perfectly formed roster but Ryan Wood, as ever, seems to be coaxing the best out of it. Don't be shocked if these guys aren't playing great basketball in February and cultivating a deep run in the playoffs.
THE NEXT LEVEL
8) HOLY TRINITY
Handing Van Buren it's first loss of the season should set off some alarms. Blake Hellwig's line in said game? 19 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals.
9) NORTH SHELBY
Fast becoming one of our favorite teams to watch. Not much size but Lucas Daniel is a scoring savant & he's getting plenty of help from Josiah Linberger, Jacob Rich these days.
The Bulldogs continue to make my preseason "darkhorse" proclamation look really astute. The rise of Daylon Greene has taken pressure off Tristan Castiglia to score big.
A weird but beguiling team. Blake Lowderman is as good a gunner as you will find. Really like their complimentary pieces (Doyle, Billiter) at lot. Most improved group around
12) KNOX COUNTY
The rise of Brady Johnson has given the Eagles three true horses who can score. Knox still struggles with consistency but on when they are good, they can beat anyone.
More of a futures projection than anything. Jonny Dahl is finally healthy (coming off a triple double against Fairfield) and Brandt Ames has been a real find. If the shots will fall....
Team with the best chance here to climb into the Top Five. Lane Davis is an overwhelming presence down low. Guards are really unsung here. Best tenacity around to boot.
16) WEST HANCOCK
17) QUINCY HIGH
19) MONROE CITY
20) CLARK COUNTY
21) SCOTLAND COUNTY
26) BOWLING GREEN
Coming Next Week: Girls Power Poll
The outsized recruiting of Concord Triopia Fullback Dean Arendt continues to gather steam. The 235 pound bruiser tells KHQA that Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have all requested him to make Junior Day visits to their campuses.
Longtime BPCA Football Boss and all around good guy John McCormick has agreed to coach the East Squad in the 2015 Do or Die Bowl. He's not sure where he will be coaching next season after Roy Gully (himself a class act) was named to head the new Sparclone Football Cooperative but John assures us he will in fact be coaching this season.
This year's coaches, if you missed it, are Rich Thompson of Concord Triopia for the East and Kevin Miles of Palmyra for the West. Invitations for the game will be going out in mid-February. We will play/practice the last week of June, so plan your summer vacations accordingly.
If you missed our report earlier this winter, former Macomb star Jarrod Rockhold has successfully transferred from Lindenwood/Belleville to Quincy University; giving Tom Pajic a little more local flavor on his roster and a very versatile piece moving forward.
Two-time reigning KHQA Girls Basketball Player of the Year Jordan Frericks is off to a fine start at Mizzou. The Freshman forward leads the team in rebounds (8.7 per game) and blocks (31) and is second in steals with 28. She is also averaging nine points per game.
Ex-Pittsfield Star Marla Willard is putting together All Conference type numbers for Monmouth College this season, leading the Scots in both scoring (16.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.8 rpg)
Former Central Lee Basketball standout Andrew Mathison has carved out quite a nice role for himself at Monmouth College. The Fighting Scot big man is averaging a team best 6.9 rebounds per game to go along with 10.7 points a night.
Illinois College Basketball may be poised to make its biggest local recruiting splash in a while. Payson Seymour star Cody Hildebrand told me earlier this winter that the Blueboys are among his top choices. And the IC staff has been spied talking with both Pittsfield's Wayde Smith and Macomb's Blake Lowderman earlier this season.
Kudos to former West Central Star Brady Slagle, who on Thursday became just the 22nd player in MacMurray Mens Basketball history to score 1000 career points, achieving that landmark in the Highlanders 77-55 win over Blackburn.
Former Macomb Wrestling star Matt Suprenant has been named the Knox College Performer of the Week. Matt leads the Prairie Fire in wins with 13 in his freshman season and has been a three time place-winner in various tournaments at 184 pounds.
Former Pittsfield Heavyweight Colton Pease is redshirting this season at McKendree, but that hasn't stop the big fella from making an impact. He has placed in every Open Meet he has entered and has wins over two grapplers who are ranked in the Super Regional and another win over a kid ranked 7th in his weight class in Division Two.
Quincy Notre Dame's Jeffrey Haley has moved up to number one in Class A at 195 pounds in the latest Illinois Matmen rankings. The Raiders have four state ranked wrestlers in all, including Frosh Ashton Meyers at 106 pounds.
Hannibal now has five wrestlers ranked first in Class 3 in their respective weight classes. Austin Janes (113) Chandler Fohey (120) Tyler Janes (126) Colby Collings (160) and Kyle Muehring (220). I can not ever remember a time in my tenure when the Pirate Program has been accorded that much respect. Missouri Wrestling ranks Hannibal as the 5th best team in Class 3 as well.
Girls ratings will be posted in this column next week, but here's a little nugget for you in advance: I am mightily impressed with what Matt Long has done in Camp Point this season. The Lady Panthers haven't gotten a whole lot of press yet but here is a squad with three absolute stud players in Defensive Dynamo Erin Flesner, sniper Kara Twaddell and do-it-all talent Abigail Janssen fronting a very deep roster. Would love to see this crew go heads up with Palmyra and in my opinion, CSE is right there with P-Town and Illini West in the discussion of best area teams not named QND.