Charleston coach A.J. Alexander said his players are eager to play their first game of the season, which will be much later than normal after the Paris boys basketball tournament was cancelled.

It is always difficult to schedule games with other teams during the holiday tournament season. CHS is expected to play in a Thanksgiving tournament next season in St. Joseph.

This year, though, Charleston must play its first game against a strong conference opponent – Mt. Zion. The Braves beat Lincoln in their Apollo opener.

Charleston, which finished second in the conference last season, brings back two strong veterans along with several players who have returned after having taken a season or two off.

Expect a high-energy, competitive game Thursday night between two potential Apollo Conference contenders.

Here is a preview of the game. 

Team records: Charleston (0-0, 0-0) vs. Mount Zion (3-1, 1-0)

Where: Baker Gym

Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at Baker Gym. 

School Size: Charleston (796), Mount Zion (763)

JV Tip-Off: 6 p.m.

Varsity Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m.

Mount Zion history: In his first two seasons at the school, Dale Schuring guided the boys team to 7-26 and 1-14 season records. However, the Braves went 21-10 last year – the first winning season since winning a regional title in 2016-17. Previously, in 15 years as the boys coach of ALAH, Schuring compiled a 268-150 overall record. His tenure also included a 121-98 record in eight seasons as the girls basketball coach. 

Mount Zion’s recent results: Mount Zion gave up an eight-point lead and lost on a last-second shot to Belleville West, 63-62, to finish second in the Lincoln/Eaton round-robin Thanksgiving tournament. Mt. Zion previously posted a 66-49 win over Belleville Althoff Catholic. The Braves went ahead 11-2 in the opening quarter to also beat Lincoln, 36-27, and cruised past Cahokia, 68-46.

Mount Zion’s top players: The team will be led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Carson Cuddy, 6-foot-7 junior forward Gage Owens and 6-foot-3 junior forward Grant McAtee. Guards Lincoln Koester, a 6-3 sophomore, and Evan Hamrick, a 6-1 sophomore, were top JV players last season. 

Mount Zion’s team stats:  The Braves are averaging 58 points per game and allowing 46.3. 

Charleston’s recent results: This is the first game of the season for the Trojans. The Paris Thanksgiving Tournament was canceled and the team was unable to get another tournament scheduled, marking the first time in recent memory that the Trojans did not play a single game in November.  

Charleston’s Team stats: Charleston will be led by two returning players – All-Apollo forward William Applegate, a 6-2 senior, and returning point guard Caleb Oakley, a 6-2 senior. Applegate averaged 12.2 points per game last season behind 48-percent shooting and 37% on 3-point shots. He also snagged 4.2 rebounds per game. Oakley averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 rebounds. Both will likely be Apollo first-team candidates this season. James Hess, a 6-5 first-year senior, has impressed in workouts. Coach A.J. Alexander calls him a “relentless rebounder.”

What Mount Zion said: “We are very pleased with what we have done so far and that has been without two starters,” said Schuring. “However, we still have many areas that need much improvement.  I do think we have a slight advantage since we have played four games – but it will only last for about the first quarter of the game, in my opinion. We know Charleston always plays well at home and will compete very hard.  Their advantage is a new coach with maybe some new ideas even though he was on staff last year.”

What Charleston said: “I definitely expect a high energy atmosphere with both of us being two teams that are coming off a solid last season but both hungry for more,” Said Alexander. “For my guys, we’ve been chomping at the bit to play someone other than ourselves so I’m hoping our guys come out ready to play like we’ve been caged up, ready to unleash our potential for this season. I expect there to be some nerves from our guys at the start with opening the season with a conference game, let alone against a great conference team, but, if we want to continue to bring this program to new heights, we need to face whatever challenges come our way fearlessly.”