“Bulldogs” is high on the list of team nicknames in high school sports, but Althoff boys basketball coach Greg Leib says the players of Mahomet-Seymour wear it especially well.
“They resemble their nickname because what we’ve seen is one tough, scrappy bunch,” he said. “They’re on the floor as much as they are on their feet. I mean, they get after it.”
The Crusaders will clash with the Bulldogs at Springfield’s Prairie Capitol Convention Center with a 3A Super-Sectional championship and berth to the IHSA Final Four on the line.
It’s taken a lot of toughness for the Bulldogs to arrive at this late juncture of the season. An uncommonly difficult regular season schedule included five teams ranked in the Illinois’ top 10 in either class 3A or 4A. Then it took a pair of come-from-behind efforts to clinch the championship of the Champaign Centenniel Sectional.
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Mahomet-Seymour (22-10) edged Decatur MacArthur, 50-49, in the semifinal before pulling off the upset of top-seeded Springfield Lanphier, 70-71, for the championship.
“The schedule had us pulling our hair out at times during the season,” said Mahomet-Seymour coach Chad Benedict. “But it worked out to our benefit because it’s gotten us to where we are now. It has let our kids know that they can play with the top-tier teams. We are right there with them.”
The Bulldogs bring some size with Christian Romine, a 6-foot-10 senior center who has committed to University of Texas-El Paso. He averages12.7 points and eight rebounds per game.
Conner Diedrich is Mahomet-Seymour’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game while Jack Rettig, a baseball recruit at Illinois State, contributes 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. Both have 50 steals on the season.
“The two guards look like the Hanson Brothers from ‘Slap Shot,’” Leib said. “They will wear you down.”
Brothers Joe (4.1 ppg, 97 assists) and Tom Kenney (9.3 ppg, 20 of 40 from 3-point range) make up the remainder of the Bulldogs’ starting lineup.
“We have to be careful not to go to sleep and loose track of their shooters,” Leib said. “If we don’t, it’s going to be a challenge up there.”
Playing in the metro-east with rivalry games against schools from the 4A Southwestern Conference as well as the area’s top 3A and 2A teams, Althoff can lay its own claim to a brutal schedule. South Seven Conference rivals Carbondale, Centralia, and Mount Vernon all have reached the state’s Top 10 list, as has Mater Dei, which finished fourth at the 2A state tournament last weekend.
The Crusaders have thus far gotten through it with 27 wins against just three losses.
“It’s been a good thing for them,” said Leib. “I might not be saying that at after practice when I’ve just finished yelling at them, but the guys have a good understanding of where they are and what they’re playing for.”
Sophomore Jordan Goodwin leads Althoff with 20.6 points and eight rebounds per game. Junior Tarkus Ferguson averages 14.1 points and junior Brendon Gooch contributes 13.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Keenen Young stepped off the bench to score 11 points in the sectional semifinal win over Civic Memorial and was rewareded with a start in the championship game against Carbondale.
“We haven’t seen a lot of (Althoff), but we’ve seen enough,” Benedict says. “They are big and can shoot. That’s a good basketball team.”
Leib, who has just two seniors on his roster, says he’ll be keeping an eye on his young team as the post-season pressure mounts by each advancing round. But he’s not too worried about.
“It’s like we tell the guys all the time, the only thing you can control is how hard you play,” he said. “This is their chance to build a memory because you don’t get to do this all the time. You don’t want to be looking back later and think about the things you should have done differently. So, it’s really simple —play your best and enjoy the experience.”
Mahomet-Seymour will be playing in just its second super-sectional game in school history and first since 1995, when they lost to Normal University. The Bulldogs reached a state final in 1933.
Althoff will be making its third super-sectional appearance in school history and first since 2009. The Crusaders reached the super sectional in 1994, but have never played in the state finals in boys basketball.