After intense scrutiny and interviews, it seems that scoring, rebounding and great defense aren’t the only contributing factors for Mater Dei’s basketball success this season.
It seems this particular Knights team is fueled by Ski, the citrus-flavored soda of choice in Clinton County, and doughnuts.
“We all go to MotoMart after the games or after practices,” Knights senior guard Zach Haake said. “It’s a tradition.”
Hopefully someone packs some Ski and a few dozen doughnuts along to the Class 2A state tournament in Peoria this weekend to keep the sugar-rich magic alive. The Knights (24-10) have a tough semifinal opponent in Chicago Uplift (26-5), a battle-tested squad from the Chicago Public League that includes star power in 6-foot-6 senior Spencer Foley (13 points per game, 84 3-pointers) and 6-2 senior guard Jeremy Roscoe (13.4 ppg, 46 3-pointers).
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Foley transferred from Northside Prep after averaging 29 points as a junior He had 22 points and nine rebounds Tuesday in a 67-61 super-sectional win over highly regarded Hales Franciscan.
The Titans also among the few 2A teams that can match Mater Dei’s imposing height with the 6-6 Foley among three players at 6-4 or taller including Daniel Soetan (11.3 ppg) and 6-5 Jamaya Wyatt (7 points, 8 rebounds per game).
“We’re definitely going to have to slow them down a little bit because they transition at both ends of the floor very well at a high level,” Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg said. “It will definitely be a challenge. They’re like CBC (from St. Louis, a previous Mater Dei opponent this season). Maybe a little better, which is scary.”
Uplift is a public school, but subject to the Illinois High School Association’s 1.65 enrollment multiplier because it has an open enrollment. Beating one of the state’s top teams in Whitney Young (57-54) says a lot about the Titans’ ability and talent level.
But when they lost to Farragut after a 5-0 start this season, coach David Taylor was not pleased.
“The guys were pretty high on themselves because of this. I told them, ‘You guys think you’ve arrived. Whatever goals you’ve set, you think you’ve reached them already, in the sixth game of the season,’’’ Taylor said. “Some stripping down had to happen. It was about two-three weeks in the middle of the season we had some real growing pains. But they stuck with it.”
Mater Dei’s season turned around when the Knights began throwing more effort into the defensive end of the floor. They have held four of their last five opponents to 40 points or fewer, but the Titans’ talent level and athleticism is above anything Mater Dei has seen this season outside of Althoff, CBC, Edwardsville, Centralia, Carbondale and Belleville West.
That kind of schedule more than prepared Mater Dei for the 2A playoffs.
“I think our defense has picked up 10 times better than before,” Haake said. “Coach kind of got a little fire in us.”
“Guys are committed to the defensive end of the floor and it’s been a world of difference for us the last half of the season,” Schadegg said. “If we can continue to stay focused and stay disciplined, play defense and rebound, we have a chance. That’s what wins games is defense.
“I would like to think we’re really capable of stopping people and shutting people down, but each time you advance the test gets a little more difficult.”
Mater Dei has four starters 6-4 or taller led by 6-9 senior center Nolan Gerling (15.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game). The group includes 6-4 senior Ben Lampe (13.6 ppg), 6-7 senior Haake (10.3 points, five rebounds per game, 46 3-pointers, 4.6 assists per game), 6-4 senior Zack Deiters (7.3 ppg, 69 3-pointers) and 5-11 senior Sam Toennies (5.3 ppg).
This is the first state tourney trip for Uplift and fifth for Mater Dei.
Deiters was asked about watching rival teams like Central win the state title in 2012 and Nashville finishing second last season.
“It always hurt,” he said. “We always had that pain inside, seeing teams we knew we could play with, we knew we could beat. We saw them advance but we never got the opportunity.”
The Knights haven’t been to state since a second-place finish in 1996.
“It doesn’t happen a lot around here,” Toennies said. “Just the fact that our group is the first team to do it in a long time makes it special.”
Toennies is one of three Mater Dei seniors from All Saints Academy in Breese along with Haake and Deiters. Gerling and Lampe grew up in Germantown and point guard Brendan “Butchie” Timmermann is from St. Rose.
Gerling and Lampe were next-door neighbors in Germantown. Now they patrol the lane for the Knights.
“Since we were little we’ve played together on the driveways and everything,” Gerling said. “We’ve always had a little rivalry between us two. It’s helped us out.”
The Knights may disagree on which grade school team was better, but are firmly united in their goal of bringing home a state title.
“It feels great just to be moving on and keep playing,” Deiters said. “We’ve always wanted this and we knew we had the potential. It’s about time we did it.”