His team won the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament last season, but Nashville Hornets coach Brad Weathers says the path for any team hoping to reach the championship game this year will be full of significant roadblocks.
The 55th annual tourney tips off Saturday and will again feature a 10-team, two-pool, round-robin format that promises upsets, potential Cinderella teams and hours upon hours of good basketball.
“It’s just a brutal tournament,” Weathers said. “I’m not sure this is not the most balanced it’s been that I can remember as far as top to bottom. The nine seed (Carlyle) is very capable of beating people in the top tier.”
The top four seeds in order were Central, Okawville, Nashville and Briarcrest Christian from Tennessee.
Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg loved the tournament as a former Knights standout player. That love hasn’t diminished now that he’s coaching the team and living in Clinton County again after coaching in Florida for several years.
“I think it’s something special,” Schadegg said. “It’s a tournament that a lot of people in this county look forward to every year. To be able to sit in here year after year to watch local high school kids compete at a high level ... you really can’t match it. It’s what we’re all about in this area, good small-town sports and good support.”
Fans should be treated to a lot of good games with such an evenly matched field.
“We could play really well this week and go 0-5, we could play really well and go 5-0,” said Okawville coach Jon Kraus, whose 8-1 team has the No. 2 seed behind Central. “That says a lot about the depth of both pools.”
“The tournament is just so strong and it’s as difficult to win this thing as it is to make a long postseason run,” Weathers said. “You’re going to be better after you go through it regardless of your record.”
Defending tourney champ
Last five tournament champions
2014-Nashville; 2013-Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin; 2012-Briarcrest; 2011-Central; 2010-Mater Dei.
Pool A: (1) Central (7-1; (4) Briarcrest (10-2); (5) Highland (6-3); (8) Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (1-5); (10) Mascoutah (1-8); Pool B: (2) Okawville (8-1); (3) Nashville (5-3); (6) Mater Dei (4-1); (7) Metro-East Lutheran (10-1); (9) Carlyle (5-3).
After losing to Nashville in the 2014 championship game and finishing second twice in three years, senior guard Logan Kohrmann (12.8 points per game) and the top-seeded Central Cougars will be eager to reach the final game once again.
“I think the kids are happy about (the No. 1 seed),” said Central coach Jeremy Shubert, whose team is also ranked first in the state in Class 2A. “The seniors have been to the championship game but haven’t won it. Hopefully if you can get two wins that first day you’re ahead of the game, you don’t have to play three games in about 24-26 hours before the final day.”
Central’s scoring is down a bit but the defense is strong as always with the Cougars holding all but one team to 44 points or fewer. Central’s only loss was 42-38 at home to state-ranked Teutopolis.
“I’m not concerned (about the scoring), we’ve got other guys that are picking it up a little bit,” Shubert said, noting a slight drop in scoring from Kohrmann’s last season’s 19.2-point average. “He’s going to get it figured out and they’re going to start falling. He’s feeling amped to play in this tournament, like all of our guys are.”
Junior Jack Strieker (10.7 ppg) poured in a career-high 28 points against Carlyle and the Cougars have capable scorers in Mitchel Rule (8.5 ppg), Chase Schneider (7.5 ppg) and Kolby Schulte (7.2 ppg).
“We have to establish an inside game and let our defense create some offense,” Shubert said.
Okawville hasn’t won this tournament since 2002, but the Rockets have a legitimate shot led by 6-foot-4 junior scoring machine and reigning BND Small-School Player of the Year Noah Frederking (20.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, 17 3-pointers), junior Shane Ganz (10.8 ppg) and senior Brad Fuhrhop (7.9 ppg).
Ranked second in the state in 1A, the Rockets rolled through eight straight wins before losing 59-51 at home to state-ranked Gibault on Tuesday.
“I feel like we haven’t played to our capabilities totally,” Kraus said. “We’ve shown glimpses of playing really well at times and at times we’ve not played well. I’m looking forward to this tournament and finding out exactly where we stand.
“I think we have room to grow to get better. Our defense has been consistent and that’s probably the the thing that’s been good for us, but we’ve been up and down offensively.”
Nashville’s losses are to Gibault, Columbia and Benton, but the team also had several key players involved in the Hornets’ long football playoff run. The Hornets lost six experienced seniors to graduation, but still rely on a talented nucleus led by 6-7 senior and Missouri football recruit Royce Newman (11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game), senior Brady Bultman (12.7 ppg) and junior Hayden Heggemeier.
Junior Ryan Brink (9.1 ppg, 11 3-pointers) has developed into a strong outside threat and 6-7 junior Brogan Kemp (7.4 ppg) combines with Newman to provide more size and strength inside.
“People don’t realize we lost quite a bit last year,” Weathers said. “Royce is quite a load, but we graduated six seniors who are playing some sport at the collegiate level this year. We haven’t put it all together yet, we’re all still trying to get on the same page.”
Host Mater Dei’s only loss is to 3A top-ranked Althoff and the Knights have ridden the early scoring exploits of senior guard Nick Pollmann (20.6 ppg) along with Jordan Kampwerth (8.6 ppg) and Lucas Theising (7 ppg).
“It’s going to take somebody to come in here and play well for four days, just click at the right time and put some success together,” Schadegg said.
Metro-East Lutheran has a 10-1 record and is ranked eighth in the state, also featuring a prolific college prospect in senior guard Teddy Fifer (19.2 ppg). The Knights will make their tourney debut as a No. 7 seed and also feature junior Kenrique Brown (10.7 ppg), 6-4 senior Jason Johnson (9.2 points, 8.5 rebounds per game) and 6-6 senior Noah Coddington (6.1 ppg).
Gibault beat Okawville recently and Metro-East Lutheran has given Gibault two of its three losses this season.
“We like being that seventh seed,” Metro-East Lutheran coach Anthony Smith said. “That seventh seed means nobody thinks we can go in there and win any games. I told the boys that’s good, you have to go in there and show that you’re a quality ballclub.
“We’re just excited to play there, it’s a great tournament and great competition.”
Here’s a look at other contenders:
Briarcrest (10-2) lost a Division I prospect when 6-7 senior Micah Thomas transferred to Huntington (W. Va.) Prep, but the Saints still have a lot of talent. They added 6-3 senior guard Nate Vaughn to a roster that includes 6-5 senior Rockhurst University recruit Will Hrubes. The Saints were 25-9 last season and reached the Tennessee state semifinals; they also were state champs in 2008 and have made nine state tourney appearances since 2003.
The Bulldogs’ three losses are to Centralia, Edwardsville and Carbondale and Highland beat top-ranked Althoff before the Crusaders’ football starters returned. This is an experienced, veteran squad with eight seniors, easily capable of making some noise at the tourney. Highland’s top scoring threats are seniors Luke Theis (14.3 ppg), Austin Elledge (13.7 ppg, 13 3-pointers) and Brode Portell (12.2 ppg, 15 3-pointers). Other solid wins came against O’Fallon, Triad and Wesclin.
Carlyle and Mascoutah
Maverick Taylor (14. ppg, 22 3-pointers) is the Carlyle Indians’ top scoring threat along with Tyler Sievers (12.5 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) and Connor Toennies (10.9 ppg). Mascoutah’s top scorers are Ethan Mayberry (13.3 ppg) and Blake Weiss (8.1 ppg).