By Kyle Daubs
Mattoon has the No. 1 ranking and the reigning tournament MVP, so it should come as no surprise that the Green Wave enter the 42nd Mattoon Holiday Tournament as favorites.
Mattoon won this tournament in 2019, the last year it was played. And senior Mallory Ramage earned tourney MVP honors as a sophomore. She figures to be the lead contender to win again this season with an All-State start to the season.
“There is a lot of good competition in this tournament and there should be quite a few tough and competitive games,” said MHS coach Amanda Aydt. “I am so proud of our team for all of the hard work they are putting in. They come to practice ready to work hard and get better. Everyone is stepping up and playing well.”
According to MaxPreps, Mattoon is the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A with a 9-1 record. Mattoon’s lone loss is to Lincoln, the No. 6 ranked team in Class 3A, but Mattoon has also posted two wins over Lincoln this season.
The newest AP Poll will not be released until January, so a tournament championship could elevate the Green Wave in that ranking as well.
That will take several strong performances as this tournament is loaded with talent.
Apollo Conference foe Mahomet-Seymour is currently ranked No. 11 in Class 3A by MaxPreps. The Bulldogs are 11-1 overall and 3-1 in the Apollo Conference. Senior Cayla Koerner leads the team in scoring, while senior Ivie Juarez is the team’s leading rebounder. Mattoon and Mahomet will showcase their talents in pool play Tuesday.
“Each member of this team is a ‘top performer’ at what we ask them to do,” said Mahomet coach Garrett Risley. “With the first third of the regular season under wraps, we have a firm idea of the things we need to improve on to reach some of our goals. On top of taking steps on improving those areas, we’re simply looking forward to the opportunity to compete over break.”
Mattoon will compete in Pool A with Mahomet-Seymour, Champaign Central, and Decatur Eisenhower. Eisenhower coach Johnnel Evans she sees Central as a favorite to win the tournament despite an 8-8 overall record, which includes a 2-1 mark in the Big 12 Conference.
The Maroons are led by Addy McLeod and Neveah Essien as the top scorers and rebounders. The Maroons have lost to two top-ranked teams – Morton (No. 2 in Class 3A) and Paris (No. 3 in Class 2A).
“Season has been good,” said coach Pancho Moore. “We have played Morton, Paris, East St. Louis, Kankakee, and a couple other really good teams, but that helps us get better for playoffs. We are heavy underdogs up against two top-ten teams in this tournament, but we still feel any given night can beat anyone.”
Among other contenders, you can never count out Galesburg. Hall of Fame coach Evan Massey brings his 928 career coaching victories and 43 years of coaching experience to Mattoon with what appears to be another competitive Silver Streaks team.
Galesburg enters the tournament with a 9-3 overall record, 2-3 in the Western Big 6 Conference. Sophomore Kiarra Kilgore leads the team with 15.0 points per game and 9.0 rebounds. The team has two other double-digit scorers in seniors Abby Davidson (13.0 PPG and 7.0 RPG) and Kadynce Lydic (10.0 PPG). Senior Abby Lingafelter averages 8.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in what appears to be a solid rebounding team.
“We are excited for the opportunity to play at Mattoon Tourney,” said Massey. “Their organizers make it a first-class event. Obviously, we are not real familiar with the teams in the field but it stands out that there are not only some very good teams in the field but there are some unbelievable players in this field.”
Galesburg looks to be the favorite in a Pool B that includes Altamont, St. Anthony, and Olney. St. Anthony enters the tournament with a 6-5 record, but are losers of three straight – to Beecher City, Effingham, and state-ranked Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. The Bulldogs own an 86-70 win over Altamont this season.
Altamont enters with a 7-6 record and a 2-2 record in the National Trail Conference. The team is led by a potential tournament MVP candidate in sophomore Grace Nelson, who is averaging 29.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.0 steals. Nelson is shooting 55% from the field and 80.5% from the free-throw line as well, but Altamont is young as a whole, according to head coach Katie Lurkins.
“We are an extremely young team, no seniors and one junior,” said Lurkins. “We play a competitive schedule. The girls are learning to compete at the varsity level. We hope to see leadership on the court and the ability to compete with bigger schools and more experienced teams.”
Olney enters the tournament with a 5-6 record and a 2-2 mark in the Little Illini Conference. The team has lost four straight. Senior Anna Blank leads the team with 12.2 points per game while sophomore Grayce Burgener adds 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Decatur Eisenhower is searching for its first win on the season. The team is 0-10 and 0-6 in the Central State 8 Conference. Sophomore Breyah Austin leads the team at 12.0 points per game, while freshman O’Niya Reed has been a standout player so for this season. Evans said the team is likely to be without senior captain Samarah Cunningham.
“We are a very young team learning on the fly,” said Evans. “We play hard every game and we have seen moments of growth and promise over the first half of this season. We are getting better with everyone still playing hard and staying together to someday shortly turn this program around. I like Central to win it all.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mallory Ramage (Mattoon) – Ramage is the reigning MVP and a former First-Team All-State selection. Ramage is signed with Loyola-Chicago University and recently became Mattoon’s all-time leading scorer.
Faith Niebrugge (Mattoon) – The athletic Niebrugge is a soccer star for Mattoon, but is making a case for Athlete of the Year in Mattoon. Niebrugge can do just about everything on the floor and should be a contender for All-Tournament Team.
Cayla Koerner (Mahomet-Seymour) – The senior is having a great basketball season, but is a natural athlete in general. Koerner has already committed to playing soccer at Southeast Missouri University.
Grace Nelson (Altamont) – Nelson is the reigning IHSA Class 1A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles. Nelson also finished runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles, where she won the IESA state championship as an eighth-grader, as well as the long jump. Nelson has already scored 42 points in a game this season.
Kiarra Kilgore (Galesburg) – Kilgore has already produced a game of 22 points and 17 rebounds in a single game this season.
Addy McLeod (Champaign Central) – One of McLeod’s best games includes 26 points and 11 rebounds over Peoria Richwoods.
Grayce Burgener (Olney) – Burgener made All-Little Illini Second-Team last season as a freshman. With Anna Blank’s status up in the air, Burgener will be a top option for Olney.
Pool A: Mattoon, Champaign Central, Decatur Eisenhower, Mahomet-Seymour
Pool B: Galesburg, Olney, St. Anthony, Altamont
Game 1: Oney vs. St. Anthony (8:30 a.m.)
Game 2: Mahomet-Seymour vs. Champaign Central (10 a.m.)
Game 3: Mattoon vs. Decatur Eisenhower (11:30 a.m.)
Game 4: Altamont vs. Galesburg (1 p.m.)
Game 5: Decatur Eisenhower vs. Mahomet-Seymour (3 p.m.)
Game 6: Galesburg vs. Olney (4:30 p.m.)
Game 7: Champaign Central vs. Mattoon (6 p.m.)
Game 8: St. Anthony vs. Altamont (7:30 p.m.)
Game 9: Champaign Central vs. Decatur Eisenhower (8:30 a.m.)
Game 10: St. Anthony vs. Galesburg (10 a.m.)
Game 11: Olney vs. Altamont (11:30 a.m.)
Game 12: Mattoon vs. Mahomet-Seymour (1 p.m.)
Game 13: 3rd place in Pool A vs. 4th place in Pool B (4 p.m.)
Game 14: 4th place in Pool A vs. 3rd place in Pool B (5:30 p.m.)
Game 15: 1st place in Pool A vs. 2nd place in Pool B (7 p.m.)
Game 16: 2nd place in Pool A vs. 1st place in Pool B (8:30 p.m.)
Game 17: Loser of Game 13 vs. Loser of Game 14 (3 p.m.)
Game 18: Winner of Game 13 vs. Winner of Game 14 (4:30 p.m.)
Game 19: Loser of Game 15 vs. Loser of Game 16 (6 p.m.)
Game 20: Winner of Game 15 vs. Winner of Game 16 (7:30 p.m.)