We've turned the midseason corner, which means the end of holiday tournaments (and all of the perks that come with them) and the beginning of some down-to-business basketball.|
While some leaders are emerging from the pack in boys' and girls' roundball races in all three area conferences, each league's respective polesitters are not lonely at the top as several other teams are in position to make championship runs of their own.
West Central North:Building on last year's 21-win season, the Rockridge boys' basketball team has become one of the area's elite with its 15-2 record that includes a spotless 5-0 WCC North Division mark. With the return of 6-foot-7 junior powerhouse Ethan Happ and steady senior guard Nyle Stevens from injuries, the Rockets are, without a doubt, the team to beat.
However, the duo of Carthage Illini West (3-1 in league play) and defending conference champ Monmouth-Roseville (12-5, 3-2) still lie in wait, although Rockridge already had defeated each once. Rematches are on tap for the beginning of February.
Likewise, the Sherrard girls' squad (19-2) sits atop the WCC North mountain at 6-0, but still has some competition in its bid to repeat as conference champions from Illini West (11-9), which sits just a half-game out a 5-1. The two teams are set to meet Thursday night on the Tigers' floor.
After Sherrard and Illini West, the only other team still with an outside shot is Orion (13-7), which is 3-3 in the league as senior center Cassidy Clark has put together a career year.
Lincoln Trail:Area girls' power Annawan (16-2) has worked its way into sole possession of first place with a 7-0 mark after besting Stark County 57-37 this past Monday, but the Lady Rebels (13-6) and Wethersfield (17-4) are within striking distance at 5-1, followed by ROWVA (12-8) at 5-2. Annawan has already topped ROWVA, and will host Wethersfield on Jan. 30.
Additionally, the LTC girls' tournament has begun with first-round games this past weekend, and continue through next week, leading up to the Saturday finals at United High School in rural Monmouth. Led by junior standout Celina VanHyfte, the Bravettes are the No. 1 seed.
The LTC boys' race finds Stark County's 4-0 mark giving it the league lead, but a pair of teams are perched on the Rebels' doorstep with 3-0 marks -- pre-season favorite Wethersfield (15-3) and reigning regular-season and LTC Tournament champs Galva (12-2).
The surprise in that picture is Ridgewood, which has gone from winning just once last winter to a 9-7 mark that includes a 2-0 start to league play, including a recent 64-51 win over Annawan (6-12, 2-1). The Spartans travel to Galva Tuesday in a key game for them, as a win over the Wildcats would greatly aid Ridgewood's title aspirations.
Three Rivers:In the TRAC-9 boys' race, the Kewanee Boilermakers (14-3) have jumped out in front with a 7-0 record as the addition of freshman standout Donovan Oliver, an AAU-seasoned player, has spiced up a lineup led by senior guard Dayton Ince. Sterling Newman (13-3) is still within striking distance at 5-1.
Traditional rivals Erie (14-8) and Riverdale (9-9) are trying to stay within striking distance, as both sport 4-2 conference marks. For the Rams, senior guard Jared Richmond's play has provided them with their bedrock, while likewise for the Cardinals, senior guard Jacob Johnston has elevated his game after a strong junior campaign.
Early leader Prophetstown (9-9) has fallen back into the pack with a six-game losing streak that also includes three straight TRAC-9 losses, dropping the Prophets from 3-0 and first place to the .500 mark at 3-3.
However, Prophetstown's girls' cagers have maintained their usual level of excellence. Rallying from a recent loss to fellow defending conference co-champion Riverdale, the Lady Prophets (20-3) bounced back with a pair of league wins this past week to put them atop the pack at 8-1 as the emergence of sophomore forward Clare Kramer has added an extra element.
Riverdale's veteran Rams (16-2) still are keeping pace with their 6-1 record. The recent return of senior Jess Corson from injuries adds strength to a lineup led by her classmates Hannah Nimrick and Elle May. Depth, though, continues to be a concern for coach Mick Kopriva's club.
Two more teams also have their eyes on the prize as they hope to for strong second-half runs. Erie (16-5, 5-3) has thrived with a youthful lineup that features several members of the Cardinals' regional-winning volleyball squad, while Kewanee (11-10, 5-4) is starting to play some of its best ball.
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