When Thanksgiving week rolls around, those and
other things come to mind. Of course, it also means one other thing
in this neck of the woods -- high school basketball is back.
Tonight begins the 99th season of Lincoln High
School basketball as the Railers take on Cahokia on the first
evening of the Eaton Electrical Round Robin Tournament at Roy S.
Anderson Gymnasium. It also means I've somehow convinced the powers
that be here at LDN to provide me the forum to give you my thoughts
on the Railers throughout the season.
Normally, I get focused on basketball about a
week before the season starts. However, this season I've had a head
start, thanks to our daughter Carrie. Our sixth-grader is on the
Lincoln Junior High seventh-grade team, a squad that is seeded No. 1 in their regional with a record of 16-3. The Lady Trojans are
playing a regional semifinal tonight at home against Argenta-Oreana. OK, so I'm bragging about her being on the team and their success.
As a dad, it's in the job description. Now, let's get back to the
What will this season's squad do to follow up
last year's finish, a finish that occurred much earlier than LCHS
fans had hoped? Yes, it is still hard to believe the season-ending
loss to Morton at home during the regional. Finishing 25-6 should
never be a disappointment, yet the way it happened and at home, left Railer fans with an empty feeling for quite a while.
When the season ended, it also ended the stellar
careers of three Railers whose names litter the LCHS record
books. Jordan Nelson, Nathaniel Smith and Brant Coyne all stepped
off the high school court that night for the last time, but as life
forces us to do, they have moved on to the next portion of their
academic and athletic careers. So, the question facing Railer coach Neil
Alexander is how to replace all that those three did for, and meant
to, the team.
The seniors who graduated this past spring
were part of the 12th-best class in school history, at least in
terms of wins (95-32). Coach Alexander will be looking to find
combinations that will replace 70 percent of last season's scoring,
66 percent of the team's 3-pointers and over 76 percent of the
free throws attempted. Nelson, Smith and Coyne took with them over
3,200 career points and 458 made 3s in 301 career games.
However, great players have left this program
before, and the leadership of the coaching staff has made sure any
decline has been short-lived, if any at all. Sometime this season,
Alexander should pass 650 career wins (641 currently) and
could reach 500 wins at LCHS (482). To do that, he will count on
the experience of those returning to the squad.
The familiar faces Railer Nation will see out
there include returning starters Jordan Gesner (4.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
and Austin Kirby (4.1, 1.8). Others who saw action in most games
last year and will be asked to contribute more this season will be
Christian Van Hook (6.0, 3.3) and Jake Olson (0.9, 0.6). From
there, it will be a lesson in growing up fast on the varsity
court. The remainder of the roster is comprised of senior Matt
Hays; juniors Will Podbelsek, Dane Eimer, Tommy Harris and Cody Heidbreder; sophomores Max Cook, Joey Olden, Tyler Horchem, Daniel
Hemenway, Edward Bowlby and Austin Krusz; and rounding out the roster, freshman Gavin Block.
We will certainly get an early idea of how this
teams stacks up, thanks to the competition in this year's Eaton
Electrical Tournament. This five-game-in-a-week early-season dive
into the schedule is intended to test the Railers, not give an easy
5-0 start to the year. New to the dance this season is Seton Academy
from South Holland. It was just a few years ago they were hoisting a
state championship. Also new to the schedule later in the year are
visits from Chillicothe IVC and Mahomet-Seymour. Of course, what
would a Railer season be without the annual grind of the Central
State Eight conference.
As I begin my 11th year doing play-by-play for
the Railers, there is one certainty -- Railer teams will always put
forth effort. This year may be one of those years where every ounce
of effort must be left on the floor for each and every game. How
will this season end? It is certainly way too early to tell. However, when the following question is answered, it will go a long
way in determining how the season plays out. Will the players who
were asked to fill roles the past couple of seasons be able to step
up and be "the guys" this year? Only time will tell, and the time
starts ticking tonight at 7:30 at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium.
[to top of second column]
Another area I hope to follow through on this
season is keeping up with the collegiate careers of Jordan Nelson,
Nathaniel Smith and Ben Brackney. Of course, if any of the readers
out there have the names of other Railer alumni you would like to
see followed here, please contact me through Lincoln Daily News, and
I will certainly try to get the information for you.
Both Smith and Nelson recorded their first
collegiate double-figure games on Saturday with 10 points each. So
far, their seasons look like this:
Smith (Loras College 1-2)
-- 4.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg in
Nelson (Evansville 2-1)
-- 7.5 ppg, 2 rpg in two
Brackney (Bucknell 1-2)
-- 2.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg in three
This season, I begin my second decade of doing
Railer games on WLCN radio. I can't convey what an honor it is to
do the games for you, the Railer Nation. It is unbelievable how
fast time does fly. However, it is with sadness that I tell you
that after looking to my left for the last nine of those years, my
broadcast partner, Tom Larey, will not be there for every game. Tom
has taken a job in the Chicago area and, for obvious distance
reasons, will not be a regular part of the broadcast team this
Tom and I have traveled many miles together
and, with all of the discussions on life we have had, I consider him
a true friend. A longtime basketball official, Tom showed me a
different way to watch a basketball game, taught me something new
every night and always had a passion for the Railers that some may
have questioned. I can't quantify how many times he would call me
during the week to tell me about ways he thought the Railers could
pull off an upset or try a new style. During the season, he was
definitely thinking Railer basketball.
We had our funny moments as well, whether it was
ending up in Iowa trying to find the gym in Moline or having the AD
in Chatham ask us to move our radio station sign that Tom put
up. The sign covered up certain letters in the Chatham nickname,
leaving a word showing that he did not want in view. I will miss him
as a friend and broadcast partner and hope he, and you, understand
how much I say by simply saying, "Tom, thank you for nine great
It is certainly a new season in many aspects,
and former Railer great Josh Komnick and I look forward to being
there for you for each and every game. One thing I have learned in
the 320 games that I have called for the Railers, the ride is never
boring and the train is pulling out of the station tonight. Where
will it end up? Who knows? In the end, that's part of the fun.
[by JEFF BENJAMIN]