By Kyle Daubs

This was supposed to be the opening week of the Apollo Conference. 

If COVID-19 hadn’t delayed the prep basketball season, Coles County would have already featured two of the best Class 3A girls basketball teams in the state. Both Mattoon and Charleston will likely get state ranked in 2021 – if they play. 

Mattoon brought back four key contributors from a team that went 27-6 and won the IHSA Region championship last season, including – All-State guard Mallory Ramage, who has already verbally committed to Loyola-University-Chicago; Delainey Bryant, a strong rebounder and scorer, who has committed to playing softball at Illinois State; and, veteran guard Kylie Haacke, who plays tenacious defense and helps run the offense. 

The Green Wave were slated to start with Lincoln and Effingham this week, two teams that appear to be rebuilding. After that, Mattoon would have faced Taylorville and Mahomet-Seymour, meaning the Green Wave would likely have been 4-0 in the conference before the dreaded week of Dec. 14. More on that later. 

Charleston, which went 8-19, could have the fastest turnaround in Central Illinois. Shae Littleford, who has signed to play basketball for UT-Martin,  missed half of the season last year with a knee injury, leaving coach Jeff Miller to balance a squad that regularly featured at least four freshmen starters. The Trojans enter the season with a healthy Littleford and an experienced core of underclassmen.

In addition, former two-year starter and senior Hannah Buescher could be back. There’s also talk that senior teammate and former All-Apollo volleyball player Kat Blase could return. 

It would be two years for Buescher and three years for Blase since the last time either of them played on a basketball court, but you know how the old saying goes: An athlete is an athlete. And these two seniors are versatile. If those two play, Charleston could be right back in the mix for a 20-win season. 

Charleston would have opened the season against Taylorville, followed by games against Effingham and Mahomet-Seymour afterward. That would have been followed by Mount Zion and Lincoln, which means there is a high chance that the once-upon-a-time Dec. 19 matchup with Mattoon would have featured a 5-0 Charleston team. 

Mattoon, meanwhile, would have had to play a state-ranked Teutopolis squad on Dec. 14. You can call me a dreamer, but there was a chance that the Saturday Coles County Clash would have featured two 5-0 teams. When is the last time the county has seen a matchup this highly anticipated?

Would we have to go back to the days of the late-70s when Nancy Saegesser and Kathy Taitt played each other? Could we go back as recent as Avery Jackson & Sierra Thompson battling Morgan Sherwood & Paige Swango?

If basketball comes back, both athletic directors from Mattoon and Charleston need to change the time of this game to prime time. Make it late on Saturday because watching two NCAA Division I basketball players and two solid teams facing off in the same county doesn’t come around every season. 

I understand that basketball may not return until January, if ever. But, basketball gods – if you are listening – please give us this matchup at the bare minimum.