Closing the Cornbelt

Janelle McDowell, Reporter

After defeating rival teams like Central Catholic and Olympia, U-High was headed for the conference champion title. The team lost to both teams the first time they played. They later redeemed themselves with a 76-63 win against Olympia and a 69-63 win against Central Catholic. Both were exciting games and left the boys 7-2 for a conference record.

“It meant a lot being the last conference game against Central,” coach Andrew McDowell said. “This year’s senior class had the opportunity to have some pride within the rivalry.”

These wins weren’t just about the rivalry. Many players had friends on the opposing teams who toughened their game.

“I have a lot of friends at Central and wanted to beat them for the last time that I would ever play them,” senior Jack Martin said.

From friends on the opposing side to the friends on our side, Martin had a lot of support. After the Central game, the U-High student section stormed the court and congratulated the team.

“It was awesome to be rushed by the student section,” Martin said. “It was just a great in-the-moment experience and nothing else can compare to it.”

After playing Central and Olympia, U-High was in the running for the conference championship. However, U-High suffered two losses from Mahomet Seymour 51-55 and 58-61. This left them 7-4 in the conference and unable to qualify for the conference championship.

“It was disappointing and it was a really important game,” senior Nate Robinson said. “Losing that stung but the conference championship isn’t a state title and we’re going to make up for it in the postseason.”

U-High’s team has high hopes for the state tournament.

“I’m just excited for regionals and excited for the postseason tournament,” McDowell said. “I’m excited to see if we can get our first 3A regional championship title.”

McDowell is as excited for the postseason as he is for the new conference, the Central State Eight. This conference includes Springfield Southeast, Sacred Heart-Griffin, and other schools similar to that size.

“It’s definitely going to be different and more of a challenge,” junior Doug Holmes said. “We’re going to have to prove ourselves in the new conference and for the new classes to come.”

Both Holmes and McDowell agree that the new conference will be tough and will prepare the team.

“That’s what really matters, it’s all about the post season success,” McDowell said.

As a first year head coach, McDowell has learned more about coaching, especially from a teacher’s perspective. McDowell said he thinks winning is important, but also hopes to build strong relationships with each of the players.

“Five years from now, when our players are done with college, I want them to look back and love that they played for U-High and were a part of the U-High basketball program,” McDowell said.