By Kyle Daubs

Over the past 30 years, Lincoln has won more than 700 games. 

To be precise, Hall of Fame head coach Neil Alexander enters his 31st overall season as the coach of the Lincoln boys basketball program, he is 707-226 overall. That alone is why Lincoln gets the first nod from opposing coaches even with the new addition of Teutopolis. 

“Lincoln is the top dog in this conference until another team knocks them off,” said Taylorville coach Ryan Brown. 

Lincoln finished as the Apollo Conference champions last season with a 12-0 record and four players on the All-Apollo team. Their 32-2 team was scheduled to play in the Sectional Championship on their home floor against Springfield Lanphier before COVID-19 cancelled the rest of the postseason. 

The team lost three starters from a team that likely would have made it to state, but coaches in the Apollo still see Lincoln as the continuing favorite to win the league again. 

“It always starts with Lincoln,” said Ghere. “I know that they lost three starters but it’s Lincoln and they always find someone to fill the gaps.”

It all started with the State Journal Register Player of the Year and First-Team All-State selection in Kaden Froebe, now playing at Missouri S&T. Froebe averaged 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 steals, and 3.0 assists last season. 

Also gone are First-Team All-Apollo selection Kamron Whiteman, who averaged 10.7 points per game and is playing at John Wood College, and Second-Team All-Apollo selection Will Ewald, who averaged 10.6 points per game and is now playing at Monmouth College.

The lone All-Apollo pick back is Second-Team selection Dylan Singleton, who averaged 10.3 points per game. 

“Lincoln is always the team to beat,” said Effingham coach Obie Farmer. “They have been dominant in Apollo since joining. Every year we feel we have them figured out but their 1-2-2 defense and 4 or 5 out offenses make us all struggle.”

Effingham figures to be in the conversation to contend at the top after finishing 18-13 overall and 7-5 in the conference. Both All-Apollo picks in seniors Parker Wolfe (first team) and Nate Thompson (second team) look to lead the charge. Thompson began the season with a 31-point outburst over Vandalia, while Wolfe added 25 points. Thompson averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds last season and appears to have had a great offseason. 

Joining the starting lineup is 6-foot-4, 235-pound forward Jacob Stoneburner, who has signed to play football at McKendree University next season. Right next to him will be 6-foot-6 junior forward Brayden Pals and 6-foot-1 sophomore Garret Wolfe, the younger brother of Parker, who looks to take care of the ball. 

“Effingham is going to be really good, “ said Ghere. “The Thompson kid scored 31 in their opener and looks like he has had a heckuva offseason. His game has really improved. Parker Wolfe is back and he’s a pretty good player. The Apollo gets tougher with T-Town in it. They bring a competitive team every year.”

Teutopolis was the only other member of the conference that won a Regional Championship last season. The Wooden Shoes feature 6-foot-4 senior Evan Wermert, who was the team’s leading scorer, rebounder, and Most Outstanding Player. Seniors Jordan Hardiek,  Mathew Deters, and Evan Addis round out the four seniors. 

“I believe the top contenders in the Apollo this year are Effingham, Lincoln and Mahomet,” said Reeder. “All teams are great in this conference and all are well coached.  Every night will be a challenge and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Mahomet-Seymour finished second in the Apollo with a 10-2 record, 21-11 overall, but lost First-Team All-Apollo selection Grant Coleman to graduation. Coleman is now playing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. 

The same goes for Taylorville, who finished 6-6 in the Apollo and 15-17 overall. Jase Bergschneider left Taylorville as the school’s all-time point scorer. In late February, in a win over Auburn, Bergschneider broke the school record of 1,731 points set by Bill Ridley, a record that stood for 68 years. 

The two major losses for both teams gave others like Mattoon, Charleston, and Mount Zion hope to compete for higher spots in the standings. 

“After Lincoln, Effingham, and T-Town, I think it’s up for grabs,” said Ghere. “Mahomet and Taylorville lost their only all-conference player. Charleston improved and should be better. Every five nights, a team has a chance to win, especially with no fans and little preparation for the season. Apollo got tougher. There’s no nights off.”

Mattoon returned their lone All-Apollo pick in center Sam Bradbury. The 6-foot-8 junior set a school record in field-goal percentage (76.44%) last season, a record that had stood since 1971. He averaged 9.8 points per game and pulled down 5.1 rebounds. 

As for Charleston, Isaac Miller, a Second-Team All-Apollo pick, is now playing at Eastern Illinois University while second-leading scorer Caleb Hurst is playing baseball at Lake Land College. Cory Spour and Sam Bickford will look to pick up the slack offensively. Both Charleston and Mattoon finished 3-9 in the Apollo last season. 

“I think top to bottom, it’s been as competitive as it has ever been, “said Oakley. “Adding Teutopolis this year is going to make it tougher. However, until somebody knocks off Lincoln, they are the favorites and everybody is going to be gunning for them.”

Mount Zion finished last in the conference with an 1-11 record and a 10-19 overall record. Mount Zion ended Charleston’s season in the postseason and returns two starters from last season. Sean High, a senior guard, is the lead returning scorer at 6.6 points per game. 

“We lost one senior starter from last year and four seniors this year decided not to play, two of which were starters last season,” said coach Dale Schuring. “I would assume that Lincoln is the favorite again.”

2019-2020 Apollo Conference Standings

  1. Lincoln 12-0 (32-2 overall)
  2. Mahomet-Seymour 10-2 (21-11)
  3. Effingham 7-5 (18-13)
  4. Taylorville 6-6 (15-17)
  5. Charleston 3-9 (12-18)
  6. Mattoon 3-9 (12-19)
  7. Mount Zion 1-11 (10-19)

*Teutopolis 22-11