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It is likely to happen during the course of a lengthy basketball season.
Players get upset. Players show their frustration in a visible manner. On the court. For everyone to see.
What is unlikely to happen is for a high school player — unprompted — to take ownership of that characteristic.
Which is what Rantoul Township High School sophomore point guard Jasmine Riggs did during a break in a recent Eagles’ practice.
“Last year I had a big attitude, and I wasn’t really that positive,” Riggs said. “This year I’m going to try to be a lot more positive and not show my attitude so much on the court. When you bring stuff outside basketball to the court, you don’t win games.”
Riggs and the rest of the returning Eagles — there’s nine who saw varsity action last year —lived through a 6-23 season last winter. They don’t want to undergo a similar situation this season, which tips off at 5:15 p.m. against Urbana in the Blue Star Country Classic at St. Thomas More.
“I would like to have a better season than last year and go out with a winning record,” said Diamond Walker, a 5-foot-5-inch senior guard who averaged 4.2 points last season. “We’re all tired of losing, by double digits especially.”
“I think none of us want to go through what we went through last year,” senior forward Kalista Lutes said. “It’s just another push for us to work harder to be better.”
Riggs (5-4), Lutes (5-7) and Walker all started last year alongside senior forward Hannah Wascher (6-0). Wascher is familiar to Corn Belt Conference foes and other teams in the area. The three-time all-conference player returns after averaging a double-double last year (17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds). She, like Lutes, Riggs and Walker, is tired of losing.
“My AAU team and the tournaments we go to, we rarely lose, and then we come into the season with the school, and you lose almost every game,” Wascher said. “It’s very frustrating. I’ve always been competitive, so I hate losing.”
So does third-year head coach Jeff McKaufsky, who saw his team go 2-4 in games decided by fewer than 10 points last year.
“Keeping them together and being a team is going to be a big part,” he said. “ If we can do that, we’re going to win some games. I don’t really feel pressure, but I know that it needs to be better than it has been. Last year we took a step. Wins weren’t what we wanted them to be, but we were a lot more competitive. We let some wins slip away, and I really look to win those close games this year, and hopefully string some wins together.”
The Eagles were dealt a blow when junior Hannah Cargo, the team’s second-leading scorer last year, decided not to come out for the team.
Sophomore forward Carson Church (5-10), senior forward Kimmy Schwartz (5-9), sophomore forward/center Janet Napoli-Worley (5-8) and sophomore forward Logan Wascher (5-10) are players the Eagles could count on inside besides Hannah Wascher.
Sophomore guard Rachel Mullen (5-6), junior guard Christina Smith (5-4), junior forward Victoria Walker (5-6), junior forward Ryann Dixon (5-6) and junior guard/forward Taylor Egerton (5-6) should also help contribute in the backcourt or on the wing if needed.
“We’ve got most of the same team back, and a lot of them know their role, but it’s a competition,” McKaufsky said about playing time. “You should want to compete for each other’s spot. It just makes you better.”
Finishing better than seventh in the eight-team Corn Belt is another aspect the Eagles would like to improve upon. Playing teams like Bloomington Central Catholic, Eureka, Prairie Central and Normal U-High, all teams that won at least 20 games last year, does not make that proposition any easier for RTHS.
“When we go against BCC, people think, ‘Oh, you’re automatically going to lose,’” Hannah Wascher said. “I think everyone needs to go out there and play their game the way they can play instead of getting down and having the mentality of, ‘Oh, we’re not going to win.’”
The Eagles embark upon Corn Belt play at Stanford Olympia on Thursday, Nov. 29. McKaufsky’s squad will get a quick start on what it’s like to play on the road. The Eagles’ first eight games are away from home before they host Pontiac on Monday, Dec. 3.
“I expect to be competitive in the Corn Belt,” McKaufsky said. “You’ve got your few powers every year. A lot of those games last year, we competed at times with just about every team in the Corn Belt. We went through stretches where we were with them. We’ve just got to get more consistent and play 32 minutes.”
RTHS will head back to the Charleston Holiday Tournament (Dec. 27-29) and will face nonconference foes (St. Joseph-Ogden on Nov. 26), Fisher (Dec. 1) and Paxton-Buckley-Loda (Jan. 5) in road games before hosting Mt. Zion (Jan. 26) in its only home nonconference game.
The Eagles will have plenty of rest before starting Class 3A regional play in mid-February. RTHS ends its regular season on Jan. 31 at rival Mahomet-Seymour, and the earliest the 3A postseason starts is Feb. 11. Usually that day — which is when a regional quarterfinal game would take place — is reserved for the Eagles based on a poor regular season. We’ll see if that same statement rings true this year.
“I can see us going far,” Riggs said. “Last year we were so young and immature. In middle school, we were playing against each other, and now we’re learning how each other works. We want to change. We want to prove a lot of people wrong this year.”