MINONK – In the 25 years of hoops at Fieldcrest, only twice have the Knights failed to produce a winning season. The second occurred in 2016-17 when they suffered their worst campaign in program history with an 8-21 record. The season ended with a 52-46 loss to Peru St. Bede in the Spring Valley Hall Regional.
With four starters returning, the Knights figure to blow past eight victories and not get that close to 21 setbacks.
“Boy, I sure hope so,” said head coach Matt Winkler. “Our schedule was tough last year. There’s no easy games this year. Hopefully, a year of experience will add some much needed victories to the win column.”
Junior guard Derek May averaged a team-best 12.4 points per game and sank 40 three-pointers. Six-foot-five senior Cameron Grandy (9.3 ppg, 7 rebounds) mans the pivot, while junior Hayden Carls (9 ppg, team-high 58 treys) and senior Ryan Naas (6.6 ppg, 43 triples) join May as guards. If the Knights are hitting from the perimeter, that should open up the lane for Grandy.
“Everybody has improved from last year,” stated Winkler, who has a 526-177 as the program’s only head coach. “It’s helped tremendously we’re bringing in a freshman point guard, a pass first, shoot second point guard.”
That would be Jaxon Cusac-McKay, who will join May, Grandy, Carls and Naas in the first five. Six-3 junior forward Clay Wells, senior guard Travis Cook and senior forward Zach Moritz saw minutes off the bench a season ago.
“Our size is ok, but not great,” added Winkler. “You do not have to have size to rebound. You have to have position and desire.”
Fieldcrest averaged just 48.3 ppg, as they did not reach 50 in 16 of 29 games, winning just two of those contests.
The Knights will also look to improve on the defensive end, as they permitted 56.7 ppg.
“I just think a year of experience, a year of playing together will help,” Winkler said. “These guys are a lot stronger and smarter. We have to stop the other team to win.”
Ridgeview (30-2) and Tremont (26-4) shared the Heart of Illinois Conference regular season title with identical 12-1 records, but the Mustangs won the McLean County tournament to claim possession of the traveling trophy.
According to Winkler, the two squads with the most talent back are Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (22-9) and Heyworth (22-7).
“I would not put us (among) the top (teams) yet. Do I think we can be up there? Absolutely,” Winkler commented.
Of Fieldcrest’s first four games, three will be league contests. For the Knights to stay in the HOIC conversation, they’ll have to win each one.
“It’s very important. The only problem is all three are on the road,” said Winkler. “If we can go 3-0, we’ll stay in the conference race.”
The schedule is as follows (all non-tournament game will begin @ 7 p.m. unless noted):
Tuesday: @ Lexington*
Dec. 1: vs. Tri-Valley* @ Downs
Dec. 2: vs. Orion, 2:45 p.m. @ the middle school
Dec. 8: @ Flanagan-Cornell*
Dec. 11-16: Colmone Classic @ SVH
Dec. 27-30: State Farm Holiday Classic @ various sites around Bloomington-Normal
Jan. 2: vs. Blue Ridge*
Jan. 5: vs. LeRoy*
Jan. 9: @ Roanoke-Benson, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12: @ El Paso-Gridley*
Jan. 13 & 15-20: McLean County tourney
Jan. 23: @ Tremont*
Jan. 26: vs. Ridgeview*
Jan. 30: vs. GCMS*
Feb. 2: vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw*
Feb. 6: vs. Putnam County
Feb. 9: vs. Heyworth*
Feb. 13: @ Eureka*
Feb. 16: @ Fisher*
Feb. 19-23: Regional
Notes: The Knights went 12-14 in the ‘00-‘01 campaign. Orion replaces Peoria Quest Academy on the schedule. Fisher (21) was the fifth HOIC team to reach 20 wins a season ago.