By Kyle Daubs
In a shortened season, there is no time to reflect on the big wins.
Even wins over Teutopolis.
Charleston never gave up an early lead against Teutopolis on Thursday and used 29 points from Shae Littleford (above) and 20 points from Hannah Buescher to post a 67-56 victory on the road and improve to 4-0 in the Apollo Conference.
Now, Charleston takes on Effingham this morning, who are 2-1 in the Apollo. Effingham has sneakily inserted itself into the Apollo race after opening the season with a 40-35 win over Mattoon, the Green Wave’s first conference loss in more than a year.
“The win over Mattoon was huge for us,” said Effingham coach Jeff Schafer. “I think it gave the kids a lot of confidence. As far as an Apollo contender, there is a long way to go. The conference is packed with so many good teams and coaches, you better be prepared to play every night or you will lose.”
Effingham followed with a 39-25 win over Taylorville, but lost to Teutopolis, 69-50.
To get past Charleston, Schafer knows that it all starts with Littleford, whom Shafer believes is the best scorer in Charleston history despite not owning the title just yet. Littleford is on pace to break Morgan Sherwood’s record, but he believes the pandemic took away the chance to make that record impossible to beat.
“I am a statistical junkie and it just throws everything off,” said Schafer. “For Charleston, Shae should have gone down as the most prolific scorer in Charleston history and set records that may never have been reached, but losing 15-17 games is a killer. She has had such an incredible career.”
Effingham is led by former All-Apollo sophomore Annie Frost. Back from a 12-19 team that finished 4-8 in the Apollo are 6-foot senior forward Taylor Armstrong, 6-foot junior forward Meredith Schaefer and 5-foot-6 sophomore guard Ella Niebrugge.
In their first game of the season, Effingham nearly knocked off Paris, which was the No. 1 team in the state for Class 2A last year, falling short, 45-40.
“They are so hungry to try to better themselves each day,” said Schafer. “They have a tremendous work ethic and are getting mentally tougher all the time. Many are just sophomores and juniors, so our best play is still probably ahead of us. Our chemistry has evolved, it made all of last year’s growing pains worth it. We are just trying to stay healthy, enjoy each other’s company and play the best we can each night.”
This game could be one of the final two times we get to see the “battle of Jeffs.” Both Schafer and Charleston’s Jeff Miller have battled each other on the girls’ side since Miller took over the girls’ program during the 2007-2008 season.
From winning Holiday Tournaments to Regional Championships to even once meeting in the Sweet 16, both have been through the grind together. Surely, this matchup won’t be any different.
“Jeff and I have had our teams play some incredible games,” said Schafer. “I have a ton of respect for him and consider him a good friend. We have had so many good battles, I think, because teams are always prepared, they usually have an identity and they play to their strengths. We are both competitive as well. We both hate to lose. We have both been put in fortunate positions where we have got to coach some great players over our time. It would be a pretty incredible lineup to march out on the floor putting the best kids we have got to coach out there against each other. There would not be enough balls to go around.”
Mattoon remains in contention to defend its Apollo title.
Mattoon defeated Mount Zion 51-43 at MHS Gym to improve to 3-1 overall and remain tied with Effingham and Teutopolis in second place. Today, Mattoon takes on winless Taylorville, hoping to raise its current conference winning streak to four games.
Taylorville owns a 55-45 loss to Lincoln, 39-25 loss to Effingham, and 71-46 loss to Charleston.
“The start of the season for us has been a little hectic trying to get organized, but it has been very exciting,” said Taylorville coach Hayden Eldred. “We are 0-3, but continue to use our games to get better with the lack of practices, and with being so young, have a lot of room to grow. The girls have done a great job of learning from our mistakes, and continue to give it their all, which is all you can ask.”
Taylorville was 5-25 last season and last in the Apollo with a 2-10 record. Eldred is in his first year with Taylorville. Team MVP Haylee Sagle returns as a senior and was a second-team All-Apollo selection last season.
Eldred said Taylorville will have its hands full in stopping first-team Apollo and All-State selection Mallory Ramage, along with the rest of a quick Green Wave squad.
“I have seen little of Mattoon at the moment,” said Eldred. “I have some shared film and watched a couple of minutes. Looks like they bring a lot of energy and quickness, with the long athletic skill of Mallory Ramage. It is going to be a good, tough game for us.”