After suffering through a 3-24 season — by far his worst in 18 years as the head women’s basketball coach at Southwestern Illinois College — Belleville native Mike Juenger is looking for a few true student-athletes as he begins his quest of reshaping the Blue Storm program.
With the recent signing of Central senior Alicia Book for the upcoming season, Juenger believes he’s off to a good start.
“What really impressed me was during the recruiting process, Alicia said to me ‘coach, I want to help get the (basketball) program back on top. Where it used to be,’” Juenger said. “The last couple of years we’ve gotten away from having kids who want to be here and are willing to do what is necessary to be successful and I mean both academically and on the basketball court.
“We’ve lost 42 games in the last two years. I don’t think we lost 42 games in six or seven years prior to that.”
A 5-foot-8 guard, Book is the first of the Blue Storm’s 2016-17 recruiting class to officially sign her letter of intent. A key member of a Central team which placed second in the Class 2A Tournament during the 2014-15 season, Book missed this past season after suffering a broken ankle during preseason workouts.
The loss of Book proved to be damaging for the Cougars, who despite being ranked first in the Class 2A state poll for much of the season, fell one game short of a return trip to the state finals, losing in the Jacksonville Super-Sectional.
Book, who averaged 6.6 points for Central in her junior season, has been cleared to play and will be a shooting guard at SWIC. Book will also be the second member of her family to play at SWIC. Her brother Brandon Book was a standout for two years with the Blue Storm and later went on to play two successful years at McKendree University.
“Alicia comes from a great family and a great basketball program at Central,” Juenger said. “Coach (Nathan) Rueter is one of the top coaches in the state and one thing about the girls who come through his program is that they are fundamentally sound and play very hard. Alicia is a great shooter and she’s the type of player who will give 100 percent effort all the time both in the classroom and on the basketball court. On that I have no doubt.”
Juenger continuing to recover
After receiving a pacemaker in early March, a slimmer and appreciative Juenger, has been busy in his dual responsibilities as SWIC’s athletic director and head women’s basketball coach. But like Book, the past basketball season is one he would like to forget.
“It was rough. I wasn’t feeling good and when I was coaching I didn’t know what I could or should do a lot of the time,” Juenger said. “Plus the fact we were having academic issues with some of the girls really hurt us. We lost two players who were averaging a combined 31 points per game in the first half of the season. That’s tough for any team to recover from.
“But since my surgery I’m doing much better. I’ve lost over 40 pounds, changed my diet and I’m running a mile a day now. I feel great and I have so much more energy than what I had before. I’m good to go. I don’t have to see my doctor until September now and life is just very good.”