Neil Alexander said what everyone was thinking.
With all 10 All-Apollo selections graduated from last year’s all-conference list, the head coach with 725 wins at Lincoln alone might have stated the obvious as the Apollo season is slated to begin this Friday.
“I believe this is a very balanced conference and very difficult to pick a winner,” said Alexander.
Mattoon’s Ryan Ghere reiterated similar thoughts when he said the conference is “wide open.” With that said, Ghere said his favorites with Mahomet-Seymour and Lincoln leading the way, but this could be the most competitive the Apollo Conference will be in years. While last year saw some easy “bunny” games, Mt. Zion, a team that went 0-14 in the Apollo last season, has already jumped to a 3-1 record, including a 20-point throttling over Charleston in the Paris Thanksgiving Tournament.
Mt. Zion head coach Dale Schuring said that senior Ethan Hamrick and junior Carson Cuddy could contend for recognition this year, while Mattoon’s Sam Bradbury and Charleston’s Jaksen Braun figure to be Apollo standouts, but he gives the nod to Lincoln for now.
“I would never bet against Lincoln,” said Schuring. “Effingham had a very good JV team last season. I think Mattoon has several quality players back from last year. Again, Because the league was so senior-heavy last year it is hard to tell.”
Effingham and Lincoln jockeyed back and forth for the Apollo title last year before the Hearts clinched the title outright with a 13-1 conference mark. However, First-Team selections Parker Wolfe and Nathan Thompson both graduated, as well as Second-Team selection Jacob Stoneburner.
Mahomet-Seymour gave Effingham their lone loss in conference play last year and returns Blake Wolters, who Taylorville head coach Ryan Brown believes will lead the conference in scoring.
“They have the best balance of size, athletes, and quick guards,” said Brown, who also picked Mahomet-Seymour as the Apollo favorite.
While Mahomet-Seymour is receiving a lot of attention, nobody can count out the Railsplitters with their Hall of Fame coach. Lincoln figures to reload with Apollo coaches mentioning juniors Jake Biven and Brian Cook as contenders for All-Apollo this year.
“Brian Cook has started off the year very well,” said Alexander. “Jake Bivin is leading us in scoring after four games. Senior Elijah Pollice has been moved to point guard which is not his best position. He is learning the position as we play.”
After a 3-1 start to the season, Mattoon owns some quality wins coming off the Effingham St. Anthony Tournament. That included a win over the former Apollo Conference champions Effingham in the third-place game.
The Green Wave lost All-Apollo Second Team selection, Cam’Ron Thomas, to graduation, but 6-foot-8 center Sam Bradbury was a Second-Team selection as a sophomore and Ghere has already raved about his potential for this season.
“I think he is going to have a great year for us,” said Ghere. “Seniors Cooper Grady, Jaylen Middleton, and Gage Thompson have also looked good in early season play. We are a very balanced team. We have been playing eight or nine guys every game. We have had a lot of different guys contribute on different nights. I think this should be a fun year to watch Mattoon basketball.”
Charleston has also got off to a quick start with a 3-1 record. First-year coach Cody Drone takes over after leading the Trojans as the fresh/soph coach. Before that, Drone served as the JV coach at Vandalia High School for three years, as well as serving as an assistant at Altamont High School for one year.
“First year is going well,” said Drone. “This team is full of great young men that are tireless workers that come in and compete for every day in practice. There will be some growing pains at times this year, but our goal is to improve every day and if we do that as a team, we will have success.”
Top Players in the Apollo (According to Coaches)
Jaksen Braun – Charleston
Parker Wolfe – Effingham
Payton Cook – Lincoln
Joe Given – Lincoln
Blake Wolters – Mahomet-Seymour
Luke Koller – Mahomet-Seymour
Jaylen Middleton – Mattoon
Sam Bradbury – Mattoon
Jack Driscoll – Mt. Zion
Carson Cuddy – Mt. Zion
Bryce Friedrich – Taylorville
Predicted Apollo Conference Rankings (Daubs)
5. Mt. Zion