Since 1962, the Okawville Rockets have employed only two head basketball coaches. Both believe firmly in the philosophy that a strong and competitive regular-season schedule will prepare their team for the playoffs.
It was that way for decades under Hall of Fame coach Dave Luechtefeld, now an Illinois state senator, and since 2000 it has been the same for Luechtefeld’s neighbor and former star guard, current Okawville coach Jon Kraus.
The pair still talk basketball when they can and Luechtefeld is a regular at most Rockets games.
“Our schedule’s brutal,” said Kraus, whose 21-9 team is the top seed at the Class 1A New Athens Regional, ranked 10th in the state and poised to make a potentially deep playoff run. “You’re going to have to play at very high level every night if you’re going to be losing less than five or seven games. Our kids are used to that.”
And while the Rockets lost nine times this season — by a total of only 38 points — playing one of the toughest 1A schedules in the state, they are unbeaten in nine straight since a a 59-54 loss to Gibault in the championship game of the Okawville Invitational.
They also start two sophomores and two juniors and reached the regional championship last season before losing to Gibault.
“After we got beat at home in our championship game, we talked about trying to find a way to get on a roll,” Kraus said. “We beat Columbia on the road. That’s kind of where we started, then we followed that up on the weekend with a win at Gibault. Our young kids are starting to understand what it takes, the intensity and competitiveness on both ends of the floor for a full 32 minutes.”
It helps to have one of the top small-school players in the state in 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Noah Frederking. Frederking is among the top scorers in the entire St. Louis region, averaging 21.8 points and 7.1 rebounds with 50 3-pointers.
He tossed in a season-high 36 points Friday in the Rockets’ win over 2A-state ranked Mater Dei and has been at or above the 30-point mark several times this season.
“He was a one-man gang for quite a while,” Kraus said of Frderking, who had 20 of his 36 points during the second and third quarters against Mater Dei. “He was the most active he’s been all year. He had an edge to him and was really active posting up, active off the ball. It’s the best I’ve seen him play all year so far.
“He got out in transition a little bit in the open floor and that’s really where he’s good with his size and his ability to handle the ball.”
Okawville split two games with 2A-ranked Greenville, winning the first by a lopsided 66-46. The Rockets lost 49-47 to 2A third-ranked Nashville, split with Gibault and beat Columbia 53-51.
Kraus said the key to the Rockets’ run has been the consistent performances they’ve been getting from Shane Ganz (9.8 ppg, 29 3-pointers), point guard Alec Wisneski (6.8 points, 3.1 assists per game), Nick Strubhart (7.3 points, 4.1 rebounds per game) and Brad Fuhrhop (5.8 ppg).
Wisneski is doing more than just controlling the tempo and dishing out assists; he had 11 rebounds in the win over Mater Dei, one of the tallest teams in the area.
“They’re just playing with a good confidence level and making open shots,” Kraus said. “It’s a maturation process when they go through the season. Before we had trouble finishing close games, but the last three or four games like that we’ve won.
“The kids are figuring things out. They’re figuring out how to finish things out on both ends of the floor.”