'This is the most experienced team'


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Bulldogs dive into league play

MAHOMET — Ryan Bosch is making it look easy.

More aptly, he and his Mahomet-Seymour athletes are making it look easy.

When Chad Benedict stepped down as the program leader last April, big shoes needed to be filled thanks to four regional championships and a sectional plaque in 12 seasons.

"It's hard, I believe, to follow somebody like Chad Benedict," said Bosch, who was named the Bulldogs' coach in May. "And I think even the kids were feeling that a little bit. So it's just nice to get everybody off on the right foot."

M-S improved to 4-1 on Tuesday with a 56-44 Apollo Conference road victory over Mt. Zion. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in league action and own a nonconference victory over St. Thomas More, in addition to playing closely with unbeaten Danville.

"They've kind of bought into, it's bigger than one person or one coach," Bosch said, "and it's a lot to take on, but I think they've kind of embraced it."

The graduation of leading producers Cory Noe and Noah Benedict also could've hampered M-S. But junior Grant Coleman has taken the reigns in both scoring and rebounding.

Coleman produced a 39-point, 14-rebound double-double versus Charleston last week, and he's scored no fewer than 17 points in a single outing.

"I was really proud of the way he passed the ball, the way he rebounded the ball. Defensive effort was good," Bosch said. "He's certainly going to leave his mark on this program the next couple of years."

Coleman is surrounded by a bevy of helping hands. Senior Lucas Turner and juniors Kobe Essien and Cole Lener take turns as the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer, with seniors Dawson Finch and Jordan Veldman dishing out assists.

It's all well and good that M-S hoops hasn't hit a downswing because of some key departures. But all of this pales in comparison to what is going on with the Bulldogs' next opponent.

They'll play host to Taylorville, a team which watched its city get battered last weekend by an EF-3 tornado, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

"We've spoken a little bit ... about doing a couple different things just to let them know we're thinking about them and we're in this together with them," Bosch said. "We just want to extend whatever small gesture we can."

Timberwolves have high hopes

CISSNA PARK — The earliest portions of Cissna Park's schedule aren't jam-packed. But that doesn't mean there aren't lofty expectations in place for coach Kevin Long's 24th Timberwolves outfit.

On the heels of a 21-9 previous campaign, Cissna Park returns the majority of its roster and is 2-0 following wins over Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin and Armstrong-Potomac.

"We're awful excited about the season," Long said. "This is the most experienced team I've had here. We've got a lot of guys back, and we've got great chemistry and culture."

Few Class 1A programs can boast one athlete larger than 6-foot-5, but the Timberwolves possess a pair. Senior twin brothers Julian and Christian Stadeli each stand 6-7, and their on-court abilities are improving to match their imposing size.

"From a physical and mental standpoint they've come a long ways, and our post game is no secret," Long said. "They're starting to develop their face-up skills, too."

Surrounding the Stadelis is a stable of viable outside options. Seniors Conner Lober, Bailey Sluis and Brian Fehr, junior Keegan Boyle and sophomore Ian Rogers all saw varsity minutes last season.

"We're kind of excited about the balance we bring to the table offensively," Long said. "We have seven or eight different guys on any given night that can give us double figures scoring."

There's still an important hump for Cissna Park to clear, though. The Timberwolves, despite finishing above .500 in five of their last seven seasons, have cleared the sectional round just once.

That's why Long has slated his crew to square off with a cache of Class 2A opponents, and even a few 3A foes.

"That's all by design," he said, "so we can peak in February and hopefully March."

Local teams fare well in ranks

Seven area programs can say they are part of the first 2018-19 Associated Press prep basketball rankings.

Those were released Wednesday afternoon, with four classes' worth of polls for both boys' and girls' hoops.

Class 1A showed some exemplary local flavor, with a pair of No. 1 teams.

The Cissna Park boys and Schlarman girls led their respective groupings in this opening week of polling.

For the Hilltoppers, it's no surprise. Despite an early loss to Class 4A Edwardsville, they're the reigning 1A state champions and lost no one from that roster.

The Timberwolves, meanwhile, fell short of even a regional plaque last season. So what changed?

Nothing, which is why Cissna Park is ranked so well. Returning nearly an entire roster from a 20-win team breeds confidence.

Beyond the pair of No. 1s, the Tri-County girls earned the best ranking, at No. 5 in Class 1A. It's expected, as the Titans are another bunch that returned a lot of talent.

Among Class 2A girls, St. Joseph-Ogden rates sixth and Sullivan 10th. Over on the boys' side, Danville slots sixth in Class 4A, while Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley sits seventh in 2A.

I feel the state voters (myself included) got it right when it comes to this batch of local teams. All of them are deserving of being state-ranked at this stage before the next rankings come out in early January.

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).