The Althoff Crusaders enter their first-round game of the Class 3A Columbia Regional with a record of 7-15 and on an eight-game losing streak.
So why is coach Todd Hill optimistic about the Crusaders chances?
"I was talking to Mascoutah (assistant) coach Pat Cook and we were saying that there doesn't seem to be a clear favorite in this regional. It's wide open,'' Hill said. "I know Columbia is the top seed and they've had a good year, but I honestly think that any one of the six teams could win it. It just depends on who gets hot.''
Seeded third, Althoff takes on sixth-seed Freeburg (11-14) at 8 p.m. Monday. Fourth-seed Waterloo will play fifth-seed Cahokia at 6 p.m. The top two seeds --No. 1 Columbia and No. 2 Mascoutah --await the winners in Tuesday's semifinals. The championship game is Thursday.
Other local Class 3A regionals are being held at Civic Memorial, Centralia and Herrin.
The four regional winners advance to the Waterloo Sectional, beginning Feb. 18.
While the lack of a favorite will bolster the Crusaders chances another factor in Althoff's favor is the return of 6-foot, 3-inch senior Kymber Hill to the lineup.
A University of Massachusetts recruit, Hill suffered a severely sprained ankle last month and was on crutches for a few days.
Hill, who averages 15 points and 11.6 rebounds per game, returned to the lineup Thursday after missing four games.
Playing in her final home game on senior night, Hill scored 13 points in a 47-44 loss to Centralia.
"Kymber could have come back sooner but we wanted to be sure she was ready for the tournament,'' Hill said. "Not having her was a blow, but we didn't want to push it.
"But I'm so proud of this group of kids. We're playing a lot of young kids when Kymber went down, they've just continued to work hard and give us everything they've got when they're on the floor.
"We're graduating two seniors, but the way these kids are playing and improving, bodes well for this basketball team the next couple of years.
One of those young players, Anna Hanger, scored 15 points in the loss to Centralia. Junior guard Rachel Kaltwasser also continues to be an offensive threat, averaging 12 points per game.