The Lebanon Greyhounds entered the 2016-17 girls basketball season with a target on their back after returning four starters from a team that won 25 games and advanced to the Class 1A Sectional in 2015-16.
On Tuesday, that target became much larger.
Undefeated and untested in the first three weeks of the regular season, Lebanon (7-0) was ranked first in the initial Associated Press Class 1A Girls State Basketball poll, which was released Tuesday afternoon. The Greyhounds were one of seven metro-east area girls basketball teams ranked among the top 10 in their respective classes.
“It’s a nice honor for our girls, our program and our school,” Greyhounds coach Chad Cruthis said of the No. 1 ranking Wednesday morning. “But a lot of what goes into the first poll of the season is a bunch of sportswriters taking a look at where you finished last year and how many players/starters you have coming back from that team.
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“The only poll/ranking that matter are the ones at the end of the season and if you are on the podium at the state tournament in February. There are a handful of teams which have a chance to get there. We are one of those teams. But there is still a long way to go.”
Joining the Greyhounds in the Class 1A state rankings is Okawville. The Lady Rockets (7-1) are ranked fourth after defeating Class 2A power Nashville 32-31 Saturday.
Also ranked fourth — in Class 2A — are the Mater Dei Knights who improved to 4-1 with its come-from-behind 47-35 win over Breese rival Central on Monday.
In Class 3A, Mississippi Valley Conference rivals Civic Memorial and Highland are both ranked in the top four. The Eagles, led by two-time all-state player Allie Troeckler, are 7-0 and ranked second in Class 3A. Coach Jonathan Denney’s team, which also starts two freshmen, will host Mater Dei at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Highland, which placed third in the Class 3A state finals a year ago, is 6-2 and currently ranked fourth in Class 3A. The Bulldogs, who lost to Civic Memorial 57-45 in the title game of the Salem Tournament last month, will get another shot at the Eagles in Bethalto on Dec. 20.
The top team in Southern Illinois in any class is Edwardsville. The Tigers, who are tied with Rock Island at No. 4 in the Class 4A poll, improved to 6-0 with a 66-29 demolition of Belleville East on Tuesday. The Tigers will take on undefeated No. 8 Belleville West (6-0) on Thursday at Edwardsville High School. The Maroons defeated Granite City 61-33 on Tuesday.
But even Edwardsville is looking up at tiny Lebanon, which in the past week has defeated Marissa, Valmeyer and Dupo by a combined 152 points. Junior Kendra Bass (18.9 points per game), Emily Reinneck (13.4) and Krista Bass (10.4) lead the Greyhounds, while multisport athletes Madison Schoenfeld (9.3) and Casey Berberich (8.8) have also helped out.
While Lebanon hasn’t played a tough schedule in the first three weeks of the season, it will be tested before the holidays. Lebanon plays at Freeburg (Dec. 12), at New Athens (Dec. 16) and at Central (Dec. 22).
“Freeburg is a school three times the size of us, and she (Lori Crunk) does a good job with her team. Then we play at New Athens and at Central, who both struggling a bit, but they’re both very well coached,” Cruthis said. “We’re playing well, but we haven’t really been tested. We’re going to lose a game sometime. There aren’t many teams that go undefeated, and a loss can actually help a team. The goal is to be playing your best at tournament time in February.”
A new addition
The Althoff Crusaders gained a new fan and a new member of the girls basketball family when Blair Nicole Knolhoff came into the world on Nov. 29. The daughter of Althoff coach Nick Knolhoff and his wife, Kate Knolhoff, Blair is doing fine, but her tired dad will get even less sleep than normal for the remainder of the season.
“Blair and her mom are both doing fine. Dad is a little tired,” Nick Knolhoff said earlier this week. “It wasn’t the best planning, having a baby during the middle of the basketball season, but everybody is doing really well.”
On Saturday, the Crusaders had their own celebration as they defeated defending South Seven Conference champion Carbondale 51-37. The win, coming off a disappointing 54-49 loss to Cahokia earlier in the week, proved to a morale booster for the Crusaders (4-4), who have played a brutal schedule in the early part of the season. Of Althoff’s four losses, three have come against teams — Teutopolis, Civic Memorial and Belleville East — which are ranked or receiving votes in the state polls.
“I missed practice before the Cahokia game, and I think that might have hurt us. We didn’t shoot well, and we certainly didn’t block out or rebound very well,” Nick Knolhoff said. “But Cahokia came to play. I give them all the credit in the world because they have really improved. I thought we were ready to play, but we shot 26 percent from the field.
“I thought it was neat to have a bounce back game against Carbondale. Carbondale has won the conference the last couple of years, and they have a very good program. I thought our girls responded with a terrific effort.”
Last week also might have been a turning point for Althoff, which played the first six games of the season without injured senior Maggie Reimer. A 6-foot post player, Reimer is averaging 9.5 points per game in her first two outings against Cahokia and Carbondale.
“I think she’s back at full strength. Having a player like Maggie back because she can do so many things and creates matchup problems for the opposing teams,” Knolhoff said. “She playing sparingly against Cahokia, but I thought she had a real good game against Carbondale.”
Troeckler goes over 2,000 points
Civic Memorial senior Allie Troeckler, a two-time Class 3A all-state selection, joined some elite company last week when she scored point No. 2,000 of her career in a win over Waterloo.
Treockler’s basket, which came in the first half of a 60-37 win over Waterloo, made her the second player in school history to go over the 2,000-point mark. Only Katie Broadway has more points (2,079), a record Troeckler will likely shatter in the next few weeks.
“No way could I have ever imagine scoring 2,000 points. I just came here to play, to work hard and become the best player I could. To think I’m going to finish my career with more points than Katie (Broadway), a played I looked up to, is truly unbelievable.”
Troeckler will also end her career as the school leader in rebounds (with over 1,000), steals and blocked shots.
Annual Candy Cane Classic
The Waterloo Bulldogs will be out to defend their title at the Gibault Candy Cane Classic, which begins on Monday at Gibault High School.
Waterloo, which nipped Marquette 44-42 in the title game of holiday tournament a year ago, will take on Valmeyer in the opening game of the 2016 event at 6 p.m. Monday, and will be followed by Red Bud taking on Marquette at 7:30 p.m.
Two more first-round games are set for Tuesday, as East Alton-Wood River plays Columbia at 6 p.m. and host Gibault takes on Roxana at 7:30 p.m.
Semifinals and consolation semifinals will take place Wednesday and Thursday, with the finals set for Saturday. The title game is set for 1:30 p.m.
BND Girls Basketball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Tuesday
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Also receiving votes: O’Fallon (4-2), Collinsville (4-2), Columbia (6-1), Granite City (2-2), East St. Louis (2-4), Jerseyville (3-2), Freeburg (2-4), Waterloo (4-4)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Mater Dei (1)
Also receiving votes: New Athens (6-3), Steeleville (4-5), Red Bud (5-3), Gibault (4-4), Roxana (4-3)