It’s difficult to not sound like a broken record when recapping a season for the Nokomis Boys Basketball team. Twenty win season? Check. Mohawk Classic title? Check. Opponents average fewer than 40 points per game? That’s another check of course.
But the 2019-2020 season had it’s own little quirks that made it a special one. This season was the last for two people who will be associated with the program for years to come, Steve Kimbro, its most prolific coach, and Carter Sabol, its most prolific scorer.
Kimbro coached the Skins to a 22-11 mark, the fifth consecutive time and 28th time in his 39 years that Nokomis has reached the 20-win mark. Of those 11 losses, only four came against Class 1A teams: Okaw Valley, Lincolnwood, Madison and Central A&M. All four made it to regional championship games this season, with Madison and Central A&M still alive going into the sectional championships on March 6.
One of those losses they would avenge as Nokomis beat Lincolnwood 31-30 in a dramatic and fitting end to the Morrisonville Mohawk Classic, a tournament the Redskins had won 27 times in 34 attempts.
In their other two tournaments, Nokomis finished fourth amongst the giants in the Stove Top Stuffing Classic, beating Civic Memorial in their final game at the Class 3A/4A tourney, and fourth in the 16-team Rick McGraw Memorial Invite in Litchfield, with their only two losses coming to Triad by 15 and Pana by one.
In their 33 games, Nokomis had 19 double-digit wins and five double digit losses, with four of the five coming against schools in either 3A or 4A (their loss to Central A&M in the regional championship was the only exception).
This year’s seniors are due much of the credit for this year’s success as they accounted for 62 percent of the overall scoring for Nokomis.
Sabol provided many of the Redskins’ highlights this season, scoring 30 or more points in five games, including 38 against Gateway Legacy at the Litchfield tournament. That game meant a little bit more in regards to its standing in Nokomis basketball history as Sabol surpassed Mike Havera’s 23-year-old school scoring record of 1,859 points. By chance, Havera, now an assistant for Taylorville, was able to see the record fall in person as the Tornadoes were playing just down the hall at the tournament as well. He would finish his career with 2,199 points to become the first boys basketball player in Montgomery County to surpass the 2,000 point mark.
Sabol averaged a career best 20.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his senior season, marking the fourth consecutive year that he led the Redskins in those two categories. While he continued to be dangerous around the basket, shooting 53 percent from the field, Sabol added an outside shot this year with a career best 24 three-pointers. The 6’8” forward was also third in assists (51), third in steals (43) and shot 64 percent from the free-throw line. Any all-state list without him on it for Class 1A should be burned immediately.
Sabol’s classmate, Alex Tosetti, gave the Redskins a potent 1-2 punch as the guard averaged 13.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in his senior year. Never afraid to shoot, Tosetti was Nokomis’ top three-point threat with 45 threes on 134 attempts, but was also quick in transition, picking up a team-best 62 steals. Don’t confuse Tosetti’s flash with recklessness though. In 26 games, the senior guard committed just 39 turnovers, an average of just 1.5 per game.
Oddly enough, both Sabol and Tosetti will be pursuing different sports in college, as Sabol goes to Lake Land for baseball and Tosetti heads to Augustana for football, but their presence will be missed by the Redskins. The same goes for fellow senior Nick Mascher, who was having a solid year for Nokomis before injuries relegated him to the bench after just 16 games.
Filling their shoes will be a group of underclassmen, four of whom have extensive starting experience after this year. Junior Evan Herpstreith will be a three-year starter next year and was the team’s top assist man with 121 dimes. Herpstreith also led the team in three-point percentage at 38.7 percent and showed the same kind of versatility, hustle and aggressiveness that made his brothers, Tyler and Andrew, valuable players before him.
Fellow junior Seth Johnson stepped into a starting role this year after playing in just one varsity game as a sophomore. With 4.5 points per game and 116 rebounds, he proved to be a valuable offensive threat.
Like Johnson, Kendall Knodle also saw time as a starter after limited varsity experience. A solid free throw shooter (79.5 percent), Knodle averaged 2.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in his first significant taste of varsity play. Ty Knodle was the fourth member of the junior class and played in eight games, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds and three steals. Benny Clavin, another junior, was also on the roster, but was lost for the year due to injury.
Three sophomores saw time for Coach Kimbro on varsity, starting with Jake Johnson, another player that gained starting experience. Johnson was fourth on the team in points (4.3) and rebounds (3.6) and gave Nokomis another presence in the post. Landon Engelman and Cooper Bertolino saw time in 13 and 12 games respectively, combining for 20 points and 19 rebounds.
Elijah Aumann was the only freshman to see varsity time, but made the most of his opportunities, scoring 27 points in 13 games with 14 rebounds and five steals.
So for Nokomis, it was same old, same old in 2019-2020, but the future is a little foggier for the Redskins. Will a new coach stick with what has worked for almost four decades or will he bring in a new system and find even more success?
Regardless of what happens, the attitude at Nokomis is what has really made them great over the years. It’s a fearlessness and hustle that not only pays off on the court, but also nags at their opponents mentally. If the Redskins can keep that mentality, wins and losses will take care of themselves, regardless of who is sitting on the bench next to them.