DANVILLE — Cissna Park’s high school has fewer than 100 students, but a basketball team that is the envy of many.
During Kevin Long’s 18-year tenure as head coach, the Timberwolves have emerged as the area’s most dominant program.
A 46-31 win against Arthur-Lovington in Friday’s title game of Schlarman’s Class 1A sectional sends the Timberwolves into the Elite Eight for the second time in eight years.
“Coach Long is where it all starts,” said Beau Anderson, who hit 4 of 5 shots and had nine points.
Teammate Cole Hasselbring had game-high totals of 21 points and nine rebounds.
“Our coaches set us up to win,” Hasselbring said. “Our coaches gave us a good scouting report. We knew who to guard and who to ignore.”
The school’s tradition covers four complete graduating classes. Hasselbring is not surprised.
“We start off as second-graders,” Hasselbring said. “Coach Long teaches us the fundamentals, teaches us the game. Our coaches don’t get enough credit.”
Neither does Cissna Park. The Timberwolves weren’t a Top 10 team in the weekly Associated Press state rankings. Yet, they are one of the final eight in the state.
“It’s because of our schedule,” Long said. “Our record (21-10) is not outstanding, but look at our strength of schedule. We’ve only played five or six 1A teams. Four of our losses are to St. Joe (which is in the 2A Elite Eight). We do the same in the summer.”
Anderson would rather have the losses early than late.
“We don’t pay attention to the polls,” he said. “Our schedule prepares us for moments like this.”
Next up for the Timberwolves is top-ranked Illini Central in a Tuesday super-sectional (7:30 p.m.) at Illinois State University.
“You can’t look ahead this time of year, but you’ve got to plan ahead or it overwhelms you,” Long said. “We know they are the real deal.”
Illini Central broke from a 16-16 tie against Ridgeview and defeated the Mustangs 72-64 on Friday at Granville in a sectional final.
Besides starting basketball in grade school, Cissna Park youngsters follow the high school team.
“Redbird Arena is what we grow up dreaming about,” Hasselbring said. “For it to be reality is so cool.”
Carrying on the tradition
The area’s two most successful boys’ basketball programs — and three of the top six — during the past 16 years, based on the number of 20-win seasons, were in action Friday in sectional championship games. The area’s elite:
SCHOOL ENROLLMENT 20-WIN SEASONS
Cissna Park 96 10
St. Joseph-Ogden 494 10
Chrisman 109 9
Salt Fork 264 9
Ridgeview 187 8
Unity 482 8
NOTE: Since 1997-98, Cissna Park’s record in boys’ basketball is 331-158 and SJ-O’s is 313-147.