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Highland connection helps McKendree bass fishing team capture Bass Pro Shops School of the Year title

File video: Ice rink, pool part of McKendree rec plex near O’Fallon

McKendree University President James Dennis in 2015 talks about the new recreation complex being built between the university's home in Lebanon and O'Fallon. The complex opened in February 2017.
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McKendree University President James Dennis in 2015 talks about the new recreation complex being built between the university's home in Lebanon and O'Fallon. The complex opened in February 2017.

The McKendree bass fishing team recently capped off their spring season with a special moment that will long live in program history.

On May 24, the Bearcats won the race for the prestigious Bass Pro Shops School of the Year championship for the 2018-19 academic year. The championship was the first in the history of the Bearcats six-year-old program.

The Bass Pro Shops School of the Year title is the most coveted honor in collegiate bass fishing and is awarded to the team who earns the most points during the season.

Team points were earned by how high each school finished throughout the entire season in all sanctioned events.

These events included all Bassmaster, FLW, Bass Pro Shop, and School Invitationals.

This season, more than 250 schools and 1,150 anglers from all college divisions competed for the title.

The Bearcats captured the title by placing two boats in the top 15 of the final standings May 24 at the 2019 BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing National Championship held at Lake Pickwick in Florence, Alabama.

McKendree, which led the School of the Year race by nearly 600 points heading into the final event, won the title by a whopping 985 points.

“It’s been a goal since we started this program six ago, and we just feel blessed to accomplish this,” said McKendree bass fishing coach Jon Rinderer.

McKendree jumped into the top spot in the standings for the 2018-19 School of the Year race in early December and maintained its lead for the majority of the last six months of the season.

“From where we’re located, to compete on all these lakes and waters and to outscore all these teams around the country for the entire year is a big accomplishment and we’re really proud of it and we’re going to try it again next year,” said Rinderer, also the coach of Highland High School’s state championship bass fishing squad.

During the season, McKendree had boats finish in the top five 29 times in seventeen different tournaments. Also, the Bearcats have racked up 43 top-10 finishes, which includes 12 consecutive top five showings including a May 19 victory at the Greenville Invitational. The Bearcats collected five tournament victories overall in 2018-19.

Of note, the team featured three HHS graduates, including Jake Freeman, Shane Campbell, and Phillip Germagliotti.

Campbell had a big hand in helping McKendree win the title with a pair of strong outings. In May of 2018, at the FLW Championship on the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana, he and his partner, Germagliotti of Highland, placed 21st. And then, in July of 2018, at the FLW Central Conference Qualifier on the Mississippi River in Minnesota, he and his partner, Ethan Jones of Worden, placed second.

“In the Minnesota event we wound up getting 495 points out of a possible 500, so that was a good start to the year for us,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he was happy to help the team get a good start on racing to the championship for this year and that the title reflects on the quality of McKendree’s program.

“That’s something that we’ve been chasing ever since the team was founded really,” Campbell said. “It’s kind of a good measure of how good your team is overall because it’s (tracked) through the whole year and every event counts for points. It’s really a neat championship that they run.”

Overall, McKendree has been a perennial fixture at the top of the leaderboard with top-10 finishes in all the last five seasons. The Bearcats previous best finish came in 2015-16 when the anglers brought home fourth place. After capturing fifth place in 2016-17, McKendree posted a sixth place effort last season.

During this campaign, McKendree slowly increased its lead over the final month of the spring season, aided by a strong performance in the team’s McKendree Spring Invitational at Carlyle Lake on May 4. McKendree reeled in three top-five finishes at the event. The Bearcats also added to their advantage with a victory at the Greenville Invitational on Lake Shelbyville on May 18.

Rinderer believes the team’s focus on the small details has triggered the program’s consistent success and allowed it to rise to the top outfit in the Bass Pro Shop National Championship this spring.

“I think what’s really helped us the most is just focusing on all the really small details, just like any other sport like making your free throws down the stretch,” Rinderer said. “We focus on every small detail like time management on the water, maximizing your minutes on the water, and having consistent fish areas — and don’t waste time on the water.”

It was a perfect end to the spring season for the Bearcats and Rinderer hopes this kickstarts extended success at the national level for the team.

“It’s a great accomplishment and we’re really proud of it and we’re gonna try to do it again next year,” Rinderer said.

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