MT. VERNON —
Winter sports in Jefferson County have started already, and as fans file into gyms, many things about the landscape will be the same.
But there have been a few changes.
The biggest storyline entering the winter is the coaching moves. Three of the seven basketball coaching positions in the county are different this season.
Brian Gamber takes over the Waltonville boys spot after spending six years as an assistant coach at Mt. Vernon under the tutelage of brother Scott.
There’s no doubt fans can expect to see some similarities between Mt. Vernon and Waltonville this year. Brian wants his team to be fundamentally sound, but his goal isn’t to copy every single principle down to the smallest detail. He said his team will have its own unique look as it enters the season.
Chad Harper moved from the Waltonville boys basketball team to Webber where he takes over a team that was winless a season ago. Harper spent the last two years at Waltonville. The Spartans advanced to the regional semifinal a season ago.
Harper will try to bring Webber back to the level it was when the Trojans had a three-year run of 20 or more wins starting in 2003. During that span, the Trojans made an appearance in the super-sectional.
At Woodlawn, Trisha Draege takes over a girls basketball program that finished with three straight winning seasons. The Lady Cardinals return one of the top scoring guards — Alexa Capps — in southern Illinois. Capps has already exceeded 1,000 points for her career.
This is Draege’s first head coaching position, but she has experience as an assistant volleyball coach at Woodlawn and was an assistant basketball coach at Greenville High School and College.
Woodlawn’s boys basketball team starts the season as the defending 1A state champs. Last season, the Cardinals made their third trip in four seasons to Peoria. This time the Cardinals triumphed and won the top trophy.
In addition to changes, every new season starts with a series of questions.
Mt. Vernon’s basketball teams, like any other across the county, will have holes to fill after graduating some talented players. The Lady Rams have to fill the starting positions of guards Cheyenne Piper and Jessica Green. Both were consistent performers and three-year starters. The losses create a gaping hole in Mt. Vernon’s backcourt.
The boys team will lose the athleticism and scoring presence of seniors Ty’Riil Trimble and Leonta Badger along with the consistency and leadership of Clay Payne.
The Rams will call on freshman Braden Fitzjerrells to contribute immediately for a team that will try to find its footing immediately with four games in five days at the Marion Pyramid tournament.
Last year’s winter sports season ended with the first Jefferson County team state champion since 1954. Will it end the same way this year? Time will tell, but one thing is sure. Sports fans will have plenty to talk about over the next few months.
Paul Hines is the sports editor for the Register-News.