It's a number that elicits thoughts of perfection. In terms of
temperature, when the summer heat reaches triple digits, doesn't it
seem just a little bit hotter?
Then, of course, there is tonight. Thanks to those who hit the
floor for the first time during the 1913-1914 season under coach
William Handlin, the tradition continues this evening for the 100th
season, as Lincoln Railer basketball is back.
When fans gathered during that first 1-5 season, the world was a
much different place. Milk was 32 cents a gallon, while gas was just
12 cents. A new car would set you back around $500, and the house
you parked in front of was just shy of $3,400. Woodrow Wilson was
our president, and the United States would see its highest recorded
temperature of 134 degrees in Death Valley, Calif. (Of course, we
know Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium can be a little toasty during the
season, but not quite that warm.) Fittingly, the nation's first
coast-to-coast road, the Lincoln Highway, was dedicated on Halloween
night of that year. Yes, a much different world, although I should
dispel the rumor that Steve Sloan was the booster club president
during that first year.
Hundreds of Lincoln High School students have donned the
Railsplitter colors throughout the years, and tonight 12 young men
will begin representing their school and their community as the
Eaton Electrical Round Robin Tournament gets under way with Lincoln
taking on Cahokia.
There is an old saying in the sports that "you won't know the
players without a program." That adage may never be truer regarding
the Railers than this season. From the roster of 16 who lined up for
the regional final last year, a 45-35 loss to Decatur MacArthur to
end the season, only seven return for the 2012-2013 campaign.
Whether it was graduation or a decision not to return, this year's
Railers will look to replace 61 percent of their scoring, 52 percent
of the rebounding and almost 70 percent of made 3s.
Who will take the place of graduated seniors Christian Van Hook,
Jordan Gesner, Austin Kirby, Jake Olson and Matt Hays? A young
squad, featuring only one senior, will try to rebound from the .500
season of last year. Junior Max Cook (6.5 ppg), sophomore Gavin
Block (5.5) and senior Will Podbelsek (5.1) are the Railers' leading
returning scorers and will be counted on to carry more of the
offensive load this season. The only other player on the roster who
has seen meaningful varsity action is junior Edward Bowlby (1.1).
The remainder of the roster has played in a total of four varsity
games, scoring just one point, and the leading scorer in 75 percent
of last season's games has advanced to the collegiate level.
The 2012 graduating class of players certainly left their stamp
on the Railer program, leaving with the 10th-most wins (98) for a
graduating class. Gesner left with the 18th-most made 3s in a
career, while Kirby sits in the top 12 of games played all-time. Who
can forget some of the highlight dunks and blocks courtesy of Van
Hook, last season's leading scorer?
However, that was then and this is now, and now starts tonight.
Yes, this is a young and inexperienced team, but head coach Neil
Alexander and his coaching staff always find a way, and this year
should be no different. As Alexander, just two wins away from
reaching 500 wins at Lincoln, begins his second 1,000 games
(657-343), his squad will try to break a streak of not advancing in
the IHSA tournament. By not winning a regional last season, it was
the first time in Alexander's Lincoln career that his teams had gone
back-to-back seasons without at least a regional plaque to put in
the trophy case.
Speaking of the coaching staff, a familiar face to Lincoln fans
will be on the bench as Brandon Farmer joins the staff. Farmer, a
2007 graduate of LCHS, whose numbers wearing the Red and Green place
him among the school's best, was always a lead-by-example kind of
player. If he can do the same thing in bringing up the next
generation of Railers, things should be rather fun and exciting for
the Railer Nation.
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The experience will have to come quickly as the squad will have
five games under their belt by Saturday night. With six juniors and
five sophomores, someone will have to step up. Could it be junior
Austin Krusz? Fresh off quarterbacking the Railer football team, his
unquestioned toughness will fit in well with Lincoln's defensive
reputation. Or maybe Tyler Horchem? Could he be the surprise
long-range shooter? We all remember his performance of eight 3s at
Moline last season, including the game-winner from the left wing as
the horn sounded at Wharton Fieldhouse. Why not Joey Olden? His
ability to handle the ball could free up others to fill more of a
All these questions and more will be answered during the season,
and rest assured, more than one player who took the court during
Thursday's Meet the Railers night will be a household name by
season's end. But, let's not talk about the end; the season is just
As for the conference, Lincoln is hoping to climb closer to the
top. Finishing 7-9 in the CS8 left them in the middle, a position
the Railers and their fans are not used to seeing. Based on last
year, it would seem a safe bet that Chatham Glenwood will be the
conference favorite, but last year's undefeated CS8 champs, Lanphier,
can't be counted out. Where will the stars come from? Other than
Lanphier's Larry Austin and Glenwood's Peyton Allen, all of last
year's all-conference players have graduated.
After tonight's game with Cahokia
(7:30 scheduled tip), the rest of the week's schedule for the
Railers looks this way:
Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Friday, 8 p.m. --
Saturday, 10 a.m.
Saturday, 8 p.m. -- Champaign
The Railers started last season by going 2-3 in the tournament,
including an opening-night loss to the Comanches by eight. A good
start to the season would prove invaluable for Alexander's young
The Railer roster, which can be found (along with all information
Railer-related) at www.railerbasketball.com, shapes up this way:
Senior -- Will Podbelsek
Juniors -- Edward Bowlby, Max Cook, Bobby Dunovsky, Tyler Horchem,
Austin Krusz and Joey Olden
Sophomores -- Gavin Block, Adam Conrady, Will Cook, Payton
Ebelherr and Jordan Perry
Once again, I am pleased to bring you my thoughts on Railer
basketball here on Lincoln Daily News as well as, for the 12th
season, doing play-by-play for every Lincoln game on WLCN radio with
Josh Komnick. I'm also excited about the additional coverage the
Railers will get on LDN thanks to Justin Tierney. Justin is a
fantastic writer and will bring you his thoughts and insight into
the Railer program.
Who knows? Maybe we'll be doing some reporting from Peoria in
March. Impossible, you say? Well, can you think of a better way to
celebrate the centennial of Lincoln Railer basketball?
See you throughout the season, starting tonight against Cahokia.
[By JEFF BENJAMIN]