Coaches and players ready to hit the hardwood

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Peoria Notre Dame senior Noah Reynolds drives to the basket against Geneseo in the 2020 IHSA 3A playoffs.

High School basketball season came to an abrupt halt last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to sweep through the nation. But Wednesday, the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors announced this year’s games could start as soon as teams complete seven practices. Sure, it will be an odd season, which starts in February and runs through mid-March as opposed to starting the day after Thanksgiving.

The Illinois Department of Public Health labeled basketball as a high-risk sport, which means coaches, staff, players and officials will be required to wear masks during the games. New rules were also set in place which require a one-minute “mask” break during each quarter. Despite rule changes, many coaches and players in the Central Illinois area were excited to hear the news.

“I’m super excited,” said Notre Dame senior Noah Reynolds. “I’ve certainly faced my trials and tribulations this year, so it feels rewarding to demonstrate my hard work.”

Reynolds, a 6-foot-3 guard, helped lead the No. 1-ranked Irish (30-1) to the Class 3A Peoria sectional championship last season before the state tournament was cancelled. The 2020 Journal Star Large-School Player of the Year will look to pick up where he and his team left off.

“I’m thankful that state officials did the right thing in allowing us to play safely,” added Reynolds. “I’m happy to be back with my family at PND.”

Much like Reynolds, Washington coach Eric Schermerhorn is extremely happy to get back on the floor with his team led by 6’7 senior forward Devon Vanderheydt. The Panthers will open Mid-Illini Conference action at Limestone on Thursday.

“I was really happy for our kids [when I heard the news]. It has been 10 months of on and off like a light switch,” Schermerhorn said. “I’m beyond excited that they are going to get paid for working hard for 10 months, and staying focused this long. We have stayed isolated and been doing individual workouts due to the guidelines. We have followed every rule to a tee at Washington.”

Schermerhorn added that in the two weeks, he and his team have taken all of the lost months and crammed it into eight practices. Thus, giving Washington its best chance to be prepared this upcoming season. The Panthers finished 19-13 last season, and claimed the M-I Conference title.

“Our kids have responded so well, and I’m excited to watch,” He said. “expectations are a good thing, and I’m excited to see what they do with them.”

Peoria Christian coach Jason Persinger and Quest coach Dustin Brooks are also grateful to be able to stand on the sidelines again after a long awaited delay in the season. The Chargers, led by 6’1 senior guard Daniel Duncan, finished 26-9 last season after falling to Athens in the Class 1A sectional championship. The Gators (21-8) fell to Athens in the Class 1A sectional semifinals.

“It is a blessing. High school basketball is much more than a game,” said Persinger. “Life lessons are learned on the hardwood. Our seniors have worked their entire life for this season and I am thankful they will get an opportunity.”

Despite there being no postseason and limited fans, both coaches still plan to treat every game as if it were a championship game this season.

“I’m excited for the kids, parents, and coaches that don’t have to play this awful waiting game anymore,” Brooks said. “We as a program are ready to get back in the gym and compete. If this doesn’t get the juices following, and bring out the competitive side, then I don’t know what does.”

John Komosa can be reached at Follow on Twitter @Jkom91.

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