Valmeyer High will be host to one of the state's more intriguing Class 1A basketball regionals.
The brackets includes two state-ranked teams in No. 1 seed Gibault (22-6; No. 4 in Class 1A) and No. 2 seed Okawville (22-6; ranked No. 7), plus a vastly improved New Athens squad (20-7) looking for postseason success.
Lebanon (12-16) and Lovejoy (11-8) crank things up at 7:30 p.m. Monday, with the winner to face Gibault. Okawville and New Athens are heavily favored to advance to the other semifinal, which would create an intriguing playoff matchup.
Okawville coach Jon Kraus and New Athens coach Marc Derwort not only played together for four seasons at McKendree University, they also were roommates.
"Those years were a lot of fun for both of us," Kraus said. "Marc's done a great job and he's been doing a great job since he's been there."
Derwort is also quite familiar with Gibault coach Dennis Rueter. Derwort was a four-year starter at Gibault for Rueter and now is a member of the school's Hall of Fame and one of the leading scorers in school history.
Okawville beat New Athens twice this season in the span of a week, winning 52-41 and 54-46. Despite losing to Steeleville 68-57 on Friday, New Athens won its first Cahokia Conference championship since 1979, claiming the Kaskaskia Division title.
The Yellow Jackets rely on good size and balanced offense, with 6-foot, 4-inch junior Tyler Meyer (16 points, 12.4 rebounds per game) and 6-3 senior Blake Ragland (13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds per game, 95 assists) doing much of the damage.
"It's probably been a number of years since New Athens has been as good as this," Rueter said.
New Athens also has gotten key contributions from senior Jeremy Hepp (7.9 ppg, 35 3-pointers, 97 assists), senior Luc Marlow (6.4 ppg) and junior Nick Ozier (6.3 ppg, 38 3-pointers).
Okawville may have the best player in the regional in athletic 6-4 senior Jeremy Weeke. Weeke averages 17.7 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game and is a relentless force at both ends.
"I don't know if I've seen a kid his size rebound the basketball in a crowd any better than he does," Kraus said of Weeke, who has colleges interested in him if he decides to go that route. "I've never seen a kid go get the ball like he gets it. He's got great hands and he's a strong kid."
Okawville is 10-2 in its last 12 games, losing 42-39 at Gibault earlier this month and also losing to Sparta on Friday.
"It's definitely somewhat of an advantage to have won the first time against a team, but it doesn't give you any advantage the next time," Rueter said.
The Rockets have scoring depth with 6-foot junior Jacob Brammeier (12.3 ppg, 34 3-pointers) and 6-3 senior Jake Hensler (10.4 ppg, 42 3-pointers), with Kraus having gotten some important contributions from some talented underclassmen down the stretch as well.
Rueter is cautiously optimistic about his team's chances with previous wins over New Athens and Okawville. The Hawks have been playing without injured leading scorer Wes Degener for seven games now, so that adjustment period should be over.
Senior Matt Schreder (11.8 ppg, 57 3-pointers) is Gibault's top scorer and junior Nick Row (8.8 ppg, 24 3-pointers, 107 assists) has also assumed a bigger offensive role, along with senior Brendan McFarland (8.8 ppg) and senior center Jake Weiler.
Junior Mitch Meyer has been a consistent guard for the Hawks all season.
"We still have a lot of scoring depth," Rueter said. "We can trot out five or six guys that might get 15 points. We've probably had five guys that have had 20 points in a game."
Madison (15-10), which won a talent-rich regional that included Gibault and Okawville last season, was shifted to Carrollton this year and drew the No. 1 seed. Carrollton finished second in the state last season, but the Trojans -- ranked fifth in the state --may have enough firepower to advance if they rely on their tough schedule and can remain consistent.
Along with playing 3A power Marquette twice, Madison also has played Teutopolis, Gibault, Centralia, Madison Prep from St. Louis and Charleston (Mo.).
Madison's top player is Marquis Borney, who averages just under 22 points a game.