After experiencing a 23 loss season in 2018-19, the Lincolnwood-Morrisonville boys basketball team had to deal with a different type of loss this past season, one that weighed much heavier than just coming up on the short end of the scoreboard.
The Lancer family experienced the loss of a teammate, Austin Krager, a senior on last year’s team; a friend and broadcaster, WSMI legend Terry Todt; and a parent, Kim Hopper, the mother of Lincolnwood senior Evan Hopper and wife to Superintendent Aaron Hopper. Somehow, through all of that loss, the Lancers were able to become stronger, both on the court and off it as they experienced one of their most successful seasons in several years.
Led by a tight knit group of seniors, Lincolnwood would rally back from a 1-4 start to rack up a 21-win season, their first over 20 wins since 2016. They would also make it to their first regional championship game since 2016, eventually falling to an extremely talented Calhoun squad on the Lancers’ home floor.
The turning point for the team came in the new year, where Lincolnwood rattled off seven straight wins. The Lancers were 6-7 at the time, but never fell below .500 after that and were 15-5 in their final 20 games. The seven win stretch included a victory over Nokomis on the Redskins’ home floor, just their third in the Coach Kimbro era. Nokomis would avenge that loss in the championship game of the Morrisonville Mohawk Classic, but by just one point in one of the Lancers’ most exciting games of the season.
While one of their best wins of the season came on the road, the Lancers were at their best at the Woodshed in Raymond. In their 14 games on their home court, Lincolnwood won 13, with their only loss coming to Calhoun in the title game. Away from home, Lincolnwood averaged 44 points per game and gave up 43.6 per contest. At home? They averaged 48.1 points per game and held opponents to a paltry 38.4 points per contest.
Overall, this year was one of the Lancers’ most successful on the defensive end under Coach Matt Millburg. The 41.4 points per game they gave up was the fewest in Millburg’s eight years at the helm and the least since The Journal-News began tracking that stat after the 2007-2008 season. While their offensive numbers were down slightly from the 2017-18 and 2016-17 seasons, this year’s average of 45.7 points per game was a three point increase over last year’s squad.
The improvement overall of the team was a case that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts as Lancers formed a cohesive unit, particularly in the second half of the season.
Shawn Goebel, one of five seniors on this year’s roster, started off slow, but came on strong in the end, finishing the season with 394 points, an average of 11.9 points per game. Goebel also led the team in assists (86), steals (56), blocks (20) and was second in rebounds with 4.3 per contest. A unanimous all-conference pick by the coaches of the MSM Conference, Goebel was solid from everywhere on the floor, shooting 48.1 percent inside the arc, 34.2 percent outside of it and 64.7 from the free-throw line.
He would be joined on the all-conference squad by fellow senior Sam Herman, who was a second team selection after averaging 10.1 points and a team-best 5.1 rebounds per game. While he didn’t play basketball last season, Herman didn’t miss a beat, shooting 47 percent from inside the arc and contributing 38 steals and 19 blocks on the defensive end.
Evan Hopper, the third of three senior starters, was saddled with some of the toughest defensive assignments throughout the year, including 6’8” Carter Sabol in the Nokomis game. While the 5’11” Hopper had his hands full against some of these giants, his aggressiveness and hustle made up for any height difference. Offensively, he finished the year with 150 points and was one of Lincolnwood’s top free throw shooters at 68 percent from the line.
Dalton Thomas and Tucker Lemon would come off the bench in their senior season, both scoring their final points as Lancers. Thomas was a motivational force for the Lancers through his attitude and energy, while Lemon was also there for his teammates every step of the way, despite an injury that kept him from playing late in the season.
Replacing the seniors will be up to the rest of this year’s squad, comprised of four juniors, three sophomores and a freshman. Junior Cole Sidwell averaged 4.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game and was a weapon from outside the arc with 32 threes. Jhadyn Walker added in 3.6 points per game and contributed in the post, despite being undersized for the position.
Devin Brown showed flashes of brilliance in his junior season, averaging 1.5 points per game, but making 20 of the 34 shots he took inside the arc, a 58.8 percent shooting clip. The same goes for Braxton Schmedeke, who averaged 2.4 points and shot 34 percent from behind the three-point line.
Sophomore Will Jenkins was the team’s best three-point shooter statistically, hitting 50-of-142 threes for a shooting percentage of 35.2. His 6.6 points per game were third best on the team and could increase substantially next season. Fellow sophomore’s Levi Weir and Colton Tischkau saw action in seven games each, a number that should increase next year. Braden Whalen saw limited minutes as a freshman but has the ability to turn any possession into points. If he can continue to develop, he could be a difference maker in 2020-21.
Time on the court will be just one factor of the Lancers’ growth next year though. The team has seen some of the worst that life can throw at them and has come out stronger on the other side. That trait won’t just pay dividends during the season though. It’ll be a big asset in the real world as well.