Nov. 8—The convergence of fall and winter sports on the high school scene is here.
Girls' basketball games tip off next Monday after two weeks worth of practices.
Boys' basketball teams and wrestling teams are in their first full week of practice before their seasons can get going on Nov. 20.
Meanwhile, the usual tradition-rich programs are still standing when it comes to fall sports. With football, Unity is the only one of the 36 area teams in The News-Gazette's coverage area who hasn't had to turn in their uniform just yet. The Rockets (9-2) get to host Mt. Carmel (10-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday in a Class 3A state quarterfinal game at Hicks Field in Tolono, where the number of people at Unity's home venue will likely outnumber the population of the southern Champaign County town the game is in.
Coach Scott Hamilton has done it again, taking his 17th team to the state quarterfinals in his 30th season pacing the sidelines for the Rockets. It's a rather remarkable achievement, and one that few area programs, let alone those across the rest of the state, can match.
Much like the same can be said for the Champaign Central girls' swimming and diving program. The Maroons will lead the area contingent at the IHSA state meet that begins Friday and concludes Saturday at FMC Natatorium in Westmont after winning their third straight sectional title this past Saturday at Unit 4 Pool in Champaign.
Coach Katie VanHootegem-Dunn will see how junior Babette Bradley and senior Laura Taylor fare in individual swimming events this weekend, along with three different relay teams and senior Ellie Faraci in the 1-meter diving competition.
Farther north, Cissna Park volleyball will try to win a state title this weekend. Coach Josh Landon's Timberwolves have been on a run to remember, rattling off 17 straight wins since losing at St. Joseph-Ogden on Sept. 27.
Since winning a super-sectional this past Friday night in Milford by defeating Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg in three sets, Cissna Park has had all week to prep for being the first of eight state semifinal matches on Friday at CEFCU Arena in Normal. The Timberwolves square off against Hartsburg-Emden (32-7) at 9 a.m. in a Class 1A state semifinal, and will play again on Saturday against either St. Anthony (32-8) or Galena (34-4). Whether it's at 9 a.m. on Saturday in the third-place match or at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in the state championship match will all play itself out well before lunch on Friday.
Wednesday marks the first day high school seniors can sign national letters of intent with their respective future colleges. A trio of area standouts will get the opportunity to do just that, too.
At Urbana High School, Gwen Schiff is set to sign with the Colorado volleyball program at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. Schiff didn't play this past season with the Tigers and only spent her junior season playing for Urbana, but the 6-foot right-side hitter has made her name known for years on the club scene.
Luke Teschke has stood out on the mound and batter's box the last two seasons at Monticello, and at 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, the hard-throwing right-hander is set to sign with the Illinois State baseball program he committed to during his sophomore season.
Fresh off playing quarterback and linebacker this fall for the Monticello football team, Teschke — who hit .329 with four home runs and 23 RBI last season for a 21-win Monticello team that also saw him pick up eight wins, compile a 1.44 earned run average and record 96 strikeouts — is the unquestioned leader for the Sages baseball program when they begin their season next spring on the new turf field that Monticello now has.
To round out this particular trio of area athletes bound for the D-I ranks, St. Joseph-Ogden senior Luke Landrus is planning on signing at 3 p.m. Wednesday with the Illinois baseball program. Landrus, who hit .352 with three home runs, 35 RBI, 41 runs scored and 20 stolen bases last season, can play catcher and multiple infield positions. The Spartans can also count on him as a hard-throwing reliever on the mound, a role he was used in occasionally last spring for a 28-win SJ-O team.
Needless to say, there are more than these three high school athletes in our area that will sign with a college in the coming days. Please feel free to pass along photos and information on other area athletes bound to play college sports by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The end of the seasons for several fall sports means the arrival of All-Area packages in these pages in the coming weeks. With nine sports in the fall, it is our busiest season on the calendar each school year. Look for All-Area golf, both boys' and girls' honorees, to be featured in the Weekend Extra edition of Nov. 25-26 to start off our All-Area series.
The All-Area teams are opportunities our sports staff looks forward to doing each and every year, with new preps coordinator Zach Piatt the point person for these in-depth projects. Reach out to Zach at email@example.com for more information on how to nominate individuals.
More than 400 area high school athletes — 437 to be precise — stopped by The News-Gazette back in mid-August for our Faces of the Fall event. So far, nearly 340 athletes have been spotlighted in these pages in the past two months, with a few weeks' worth more of photos to be displayed ().
And this Sunday, we anticipate more than 250 athletes arriving at our offices again for the Faces of the Winter event, with invitations for three athletes from every area winter sports program sent out to coaches back in mid-October. We will start running these photos in the paper at some point in December, and we leave it up to the coaches at each school to choose what athletes will attend.
Be sure to follow @ngpreps on X (formerly known as Twitter), and The News-Gazette on Snapchat to get a behind-the-scenes peek at Sunday's activities for Faces of the Winter.
Ending on a positive note. The Vermilion County Principal's Association recently selected its sportsmanship award winners for football and volleyball this past season.
Westville senior Trent McMasters received the individual sportsmanship award for football, with Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin senior Aubrey Peters taking home the top individual accolade in volleyball.
Salt Fork won the team award for football, with Georgetown-Ridge Farm doing the same in volleyball.
Congrats to all the honorees.
Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.