Having experienced the joy of the holiday season at their various Christmas tournaments, it's time for area boys' and girls' basketball teams to re-focus on the crucial month of January.|
For the majority of the teams in all three area conferences, it means settling into their respective league schedules in earnest as they begin the season's second half. For the Lincoln Trail Conference boys' cagers, it means the tipoff of their conference slate.
Among boys' squads, the Orion Chargers (15-1) showed their ability to bounce back after a 65-62 loss to Riverdale at Erie's Cliff Warkins Memorial Cardinal Classic, taking the next two games for the tournament title, adding to a first-half trophy haul that also includes first-place finishes at the Orion Tip-Off Classic and the Ridgewood-ROWVA Tournament.
However, Riverdale's Rams (9-6) have shown what they are capable of with last Tuesday's victory over the Chargers, a win which may have given junior guard Wes DeClercq the Warkins' MVP award over Orion junior forward Tanner Williams. Only a last-second loss to Peoria Heights on the tournament's first day kept Riverdale from a possible title-game date.
Two more Three Rivers Conference clubs -- Kewanee (11-2) and Erie (9-7) -- also head into the second half with high hopes after solid tournament showings, with the Boilermakers eventually capturing third place at Warkins and the Cardinals using a 3-1 pool showing already to match last year's victory total.
Other boys' squads to keep an eye on over the next month or so include Prophetstown, coming off a second-place finish at the Ridgewood-ROWVA Tournament; fellow TRAC-9 club Morrison, which has made good strides after a slow start; and Wethersfield (7-5), which was up and down at the Warkins Memorial Classic before finishing strong.
For area girls' teams, Riverdale (14-1) showed its strength during last week's run to the Lady Prophet Tournament championship, capping a 4-0 run at Prophetstown by topping two-time defending Class 1A state champion Hinckley-Big Rock 46-37 in the title game, snapping the 14-1 Lady Royals' 29-game winning streak in the process.
Wethersfield (13-3) also kept on rolling, going 4-0 to win the Warkins Memorial Girls Classic at Erie and stretch its winning streak to eight games in the process as senior guard Shelby Steger was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. The Lady Geese's last loss came in their Lincoln Trail opener against Annawan.
Speaking of Annawan, the 10-4 Bravettes took fourth at Bloomington-Normal's State Farm Holiday Classic as the smallest team in the girls' field, with their losses coming to defending 2A state champ Bloomington Central Catholic and 2A fourth-place finisher Kankakee Bishop McNamara. A dandy battle for the LTC title could be brewing, with Wethersfield trying to keep pace with Annawan and Stark County (13-1), with a much-improved Alexis United team in the mix.
Stark County is coming off a title at the Monticello Holiday Tournament, beating a strong Sherrard team (14-3) for the championship. For their part, the Tigers hope to continue to set the pace in the West Central Conference's North Division, with young squads from Rockridge (8-6) and Orion (6-6), with the former team taking third at Erie. Another squad to keep an eye on is Prophetstown with a 9-9 mark.
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