The Christmas holidays and semester break came too soon for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm which ended the first half of its season by winning six of its last seven games and with a 10-4 record.
Now veteran coach Jay Harrington’s squad opens the ‘16 portion of its ‘15-16 season with three major tests — all on the road — before second semester classes begin in a little less then two weeks.
“It’s not the fact that we haven’t played in three weeks that concerns me. Since we’ve been back, we’ve had great practice sessions and the kids and coaching staff has had more fun then we’ve had in a long time,’’ Harrington said. “I’ve said all along that this is a tremendous group of kids.
“What concerns me is that we’re going on the road three times in the next 10 games and we’re playing three very good basketball teams. It’s a brutal schedule to start the second half of the season.’’
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Test No. 1 will be on Wednesday when SWIC travels to Ina to battle Rend Lake College. Road trips to Southeastern Illinois College (Jan. 9) and Vinvcennes University (Jan. 13) will follow before the Blue Storm returns home on Jan. 16 against Lewis and Clark College.
The Blue Storm was playing its best basketball of the season at the end of the first semester. Just 4-3 after a loss at John A. Logan College, the Blue Storm’s only loss since then came at Lincoln Trail (81-75). Included among the victories were wins on the road at Kaskaskia College and against nationally-ranked Three Rivers College.
SWIC also defeated Mineral Aree College (69-60) after losing to the Cardinals 107-87 earlier in the season.
Harrington said the difference has been the improved health of his basketball team.
“We got some kids back,’’ Harrington said. “De’Antae (McMurray) is back at full strength and he and Bo (Burkhart) are playing great in the backcourt together right now. Plus (Austen) Twombley has really improved and we think he’ll be able to help us at the guard spot in the second half of the season.
“Plus Kyle (Lemons) has had five straight days of practice for the first time in a long tim e. If he shoots the basketball in games the way he has been in practice, he’s going to give opposing teams something more to think about the second half of the season.’’
Harrington added that former Freeburg High School standout Justin Dieker will continue to see limited playing time as he mends from an injured foot.
“We’re going to watch him carefully,’’ Harrington said of Dieker. “He’ll continue to play a few minutes here and there. We’re not going to take any chances with him.’’
Coach Mike Juenger hopes the second half of the season begins better then the first half ended as the SWIC women’s team tries to end a six-game skid at Rend Lake College on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The Blue Storm is 3-7 for the season and a lowly 0-6 in Great Rivers Athletic Conference play.