Illinois Valley hoops teams ready to court success
The high school basketball season is about to tip off, and teams in the Tri-County Conference, which includes several schools from the Illinois Valley, are ready to run the court.
Last year, Marquette Academy finished the season at the top of the conference with a 20-10 overall record and an 8-0 conference record. The Crusaders reached the regional championship game, losing 57-52. Marquette is expected be strong again, with at least four returning players, including Austin Threadgill. As a junior last year, Threadgill was a consistent contributor to Marquette’s offense and finished as the team’s top scorer. He put up 15 points in a late-season win over rival Seneca.
One of the Crusaders' toughest challengers promises to be DePue High School, which finished 26-4 overall and 7-1 in the conference last year. The Little Giants ended up in second place in the conference and made it to sectionals. They won eight home games and didn't record a loss until January, when Marquette took them down.
All five starters from last year’s DePue team will likely return, including Rafa Puga, who averaged 14 points, six assists and four steals last season. Puga will be joined by Austin Cisco, Manny Winfert, Eddie Moreno and Rahim Mckee-Strong. Last season, Moreno and Mckee-Strong served as team captains and averaged 12 and nine points per game, respectively.
Farther down the rankings from last year, Woodland High School has some climbing to do. The Warriors finished with a 6-21 overall record and were stuck in seventh place in the conference. The Warriors split their first six games but then lost 14 out of their next 15.
Woodland does have an experienced roster, losing only two players to graduation. Captain Chandler Hillebrenner will return for his senior season, helping out both in scoring and as one of the team's best rebounders.
Collin Hjerpe also could be crucial. He was instrumental in a late-season victory over Henry-Senachwine, when he put up 16 points and hit the go-ahead basket late in the fourth quarter. Hjerpe was also a star on defense and recorded 15 rebounds and one block in a 66-58 win over Midland High School. He also scored 13 points in the win.
The high school basketball regular season will kick off in late November and run through February.