Now that his team has a championship to its credit after winning the Chester Invitational tournament title, New Athens basketball coach Marc Derwort believes the Yellow Jackets have another goal in mind.
New Athens (12-6) has never won the Kaskaskia Division title of the Cahokia Conference since the league split into two divisions.
"That's what we try to do every year and it hasn't come to fruition," Derwort said. "We've finished second four or five times. It's always Lebanon in the way and I believe Steeleville shared for the title one year, too."
New Athens is off to a 4-0 start in league play, including a win over Lebanon.
If the 'Jackets hope to make a run at a conference title, they will need to play with the same balance and intensity they displayed at the Chester Invitational.
New Athens claimed its 11th tourney championship Saturday with a 70-67 victory over Black Diamond Conference leader Chester on Saturday.
New Athens also beat Chester 65-62 Dec. 29 at the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament.
Down 30-29 at halftime Saturday, the Yellow Jackets rallied behind the balanced scoring of Blake Ragland (21 points), Tyler Meyer (17), Luc Marlow (13) and Nick Ozier (13).
Ragland was 8-for-12 from the floor while Meyer pulled down 11 rebounds. Marlow and Ozier were also sharp with Marlow sinking six of eight shots and Ozier nailing all three of his 3-point tries.
That helped them hold off an inspired Chester squad that collected 11 3-pointers.
New Athens reached the finals by hammering Ste. Genevieve Valle Catholic 67-47 in the semifinals with Meyer and Ragland combining for 29 points.
While top scorers Meyer (15.1 points, 11.4 rebounds per game) and Ragland (13.6 ppg) again led the way and earned all-tournament honors, it was the play of his guards that got Derwort a little extra excited.
"It was a good win for these kids, our seniors especially have been really good all year long," Derwort said. "They've exceeded all expectations I had for them, especially our guards. They did a really nice job of maintaining their composure and leading our team.
"It really started in the summer. I saw them and thought that they might be all right, but they really seemed to mature and develop, taking on more of a leadership role and a vocal role."
New Athens also won Chester Invitational championships in 2010 and 2004, but before that the 'jackets hadn't won since a run of four straight championships from 1977 to 1980.
New Athens continues to improve and most of its defeats have come against solid competition.
"If there is such a good thing as a good losses, our loses came against Woodlawn twice, Okawville twice and also to Gibault," said Derwort, whose team also lost to Waltonville. "Those are some pretty solid teams we're losing to and most of those games were pretty close."
New Athens returned only two starters, but Derwort liked his team's overall experience. Finding playoff success won't be easy with his team in the same regional with state-ranked Okawville and Gibault, among others.
A year ago, Madison was in that regional as well before being shifted to a different one this season.
"Two state ranked teams is one regions is enough," Derwort said.
No fracture for Okawville standout
Okawville High coach Jon Kraus confirmed Monday that star senior forward Jeremy Weeke did not have a fracture in his left foot and instead missed two weeks with what was believed to be an ankle sprain.
Kraus said he planned to play the 6-foot-4 senior on Monday against Carlyle at the Benton Invitational Tournament.
"He has an extra bone in his foot that shows up as a break on an x-ray, but it's really not," Kraus said of Weeke, who missed the previous two weeks although he did take part in warmups over the weekend. "We'll see how it goes, but it was just a bad sprain."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.