Braves' community 'all-in' during historic run

Mar. 7—MT. ZION — Dale Schuring knows how much Mt. Zion boys' basketball's run to the Class 3A state tournament means to the community.

The Braves' coach has a long time to reflect on the topic en route to the gym every day. Now retired, he still resides outside of Atwood after decades coaching and teaching math at Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond.

"They are certainly all-in right now," Schuring said. "It's a very supportive community, I can tell you that. ... The community has supported us extremely well during this run, not only going to games but people stepping up and providing a meal before a game, after a game, things of that nature."

Schuring has plenty of folks from his own community in his corner as the Braves attempt to do something they've never done before. Win a state title.

Mt. Zion's semifinal game against Chicago Mt. Carmel (31-5) at 9:30 a.m. on Friday will be the program's first state semifinal game in its 112-year history.

"The support from Arthur and the surrounding community and friends and family has been just fantastic," Schuring said. "Lots of former players at the game, former colleagues at the game. It's been phenomenal support from those people."

Scoring threats Lyncoln Koester and JC Anderson have helped the Braves to a 35-1 overall mark and a sterling 10-0 record in Apollo Conference play.

Reigning Class 3A champion Metamora was the Braves' lone loss in a 72-69 decision on Jan. 19. Mt. Zion dealt Unity its first loss of the season the next day, with the 62-38 victory at home starting the team's current 17-game win streak.

That the Braves' biggest game yet will be played when players would usually be in their third-period class isn't lost on Schuring and his staff.

"We've got a plan in place that our athletic trainer, Dustin Fink, started thinking about last week if we were fortunate enough to advance to this stage," Schuring said. "It's not totally foreign to us but it's certainly not something you're used to. But Dustin's come up with a good plan for us."

Koester's mark of 15.9 points per game has edged Anderson's average of 14.7 points, with Sam Driscoll (7.8 points), Brayden Trimble (7.6 points) and Grant McAtee (7.2 points) rounding out a balanced offensive attack.

"(Koester) has got an all-around offensive game," Schuring said. "He can shoot it from deep, he can drive and score in a lot of traffic and over people. Very creative around the rim."

Anderson's average of 8.8 rebounds in each of the Braves' 36 games also pairs nicely with Koester's team-leading 4.3 assists per game.

A strong outside attack has helped the Braves hold their own among larger enrollments. At 733 students, Mt. Zion boasts about 450 fewer students than Mt. Carmel, the second-smallest school in the Class 3A field.

For their part, Koster and Driscoll have combined for 135 three-pointers so far this season. Driscoll's father, Jay, graduated from Mt. Carmel and now serves as an assistant on Schuring's staff.

"A little bit of a homecoming for them, or I don't know if homecoming is the right term," Schuring said. "Interesting sidelight that maybe you don't run across too often."

In Schuring's estimation, what you see is what you get for the Braves off the court.

What he sees is a group of players that spends a lot of time together.

"This is an extremely tight-knit group," Schuring said. "They're on each other, they're teasing each other, they just get along so well everywhere. ... They've been together for so long and in so many sports, that they're together for literally 365 days a year for some amount of time."