ROANOKE – There is a fair amount of newness as it relates to girls’ basketball in the Tri-County Conference. While Seneca comes aboard, so does five rookie head coaches.
One of those not all that new is at Roanoke-Benson, as Todd Nafziger takes over for Hayley Sefton, who resigned after three years with a 34-46 record. He was a student assistant coach with the Rockets as an Illinois State University undergraduate in 1985-86, is married to the former Shelli Kirby and watched his son, Klay, play for the Rockets his final two years of high school (2013-14 & ‘14-‘15) after the younger Nafziger spent his first two at Metamora. The elder Nafziger becomes the 13th head coach in program history.
“I think it helps that you know the background of who you are replacing and the community,” Nafziger said. “If there would have been a job available when I student taught here, I would have taken it and maybe be close to retiring, but I think it’s come full circle. It’s just an opportunity to help the program and take it in a new direction.”
The Rockets were 7-19 a season ago, as the campaign concluded with a 47-37 defeat at league rival Midland in the regional. Three of R-B’s seven victories were over Henry.
They return two starters in junior guard Bailey Leman and sophomore point guard Maddie Monge, who averaged 12.8 points per contest and drained 36 three-pointers, on her way to first team league honors. She was responsible for 37 percent (333 of 899 points) of the offense. While some lead guards pass first and shoot second, Monge is likely to look for her offense whenever an opportunity is presented.
“She might not be a true point guard. I might use her as an off guard,” said Nafziger, a Farmer City native who served as a boys’ assistant coach at Tolono Unity and Tuscola. “Obviously, she’ll be able to handle the ball and get into the flow of the game.”
In terms if Monge’s output would need to increase, Nafziger said, “As of right now, I do not have a set number. I would like to spread the wealth of who can score and who cannot score.”
Another projected starter is senior guard Becca Blunier.
R-B averaged just 34.6 points per game last year and was held to 35 or fewer in 13 of the 26 games. The only contest they scored under 35 and prevailed was a 33-25 decision over the Mallards in the regular season finale.
Defensively, the Rockets permitted 46.7 ppg.
“I think we’re going to have to do that with the quickness we have,” said Nafziger of using some sort of zone. “We’re very young. We’re not overly big, but in the same breath, they’ve come a long way in 12 practices.”
Ottawa Marquette (20-5, 6-0) ended Peoria Christian’s five-year reign as TCC champions in 2017-18. They figure to be at the top again along with Seneca, who went 21-11 a season ago and won a regional as a member of the Sangamon Valley Conference. The addition of the Irish will bump up the number of league games from six to seven. The Rockets will host the TCC tourney the second week of January.
R-B had just eight players out last season, but that has ballooned up to 12 and perhaps more down the road.
“I do not think it’s just winning,” commented Nafziger of trying to increase numbers. “It’s just seeing how the program is progressing. It’s a brand new system. I’ve told them your 12 basketball players. You’re not a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior.”
The Rockets open up in the Lexington Classic today at 5:30 p.m. versus Ridgeview in the round robin event. The remainder of the schedule is as follows (all non-tournament varsity games will tip @ 7:30 p.m. unless indicated):
Thursday: 7 p.m. @ Lexington in Lexington Classic
Friday: vs. Central Catholic junior varsity in Lexington Classic, 5:30 p.m.
Monday: vs. Peoria Ch.,* 7 p.m. (varsity only)
Nov. 20: vs. Fieldcrest
Nov. 26: @ Olympia
Nov. 27: vs. Tremont
Nov. 29: @ Seneca*
Dec. 1: vs. Flanagan-Cornell, 11:30 a.m.
Dec. 3: @ Peoria Heights
Dec. 6: vs. Henry,* 7 p.m. (varsity only)
Dec. 10: vs. Stark County @ Wyoming
Dec. 13: @ DePue,* 7 p.m. (varsity only)
Dec. 17: vs. Ridgeview
Jan. 3: vs. Putnam Co.*
Jan. 7: vs. Lexington
Jan. 10: @ Midland*
Jan. 12, 14 & 16-17: TCC tourney
Jan. 22: @ Henry, 7 p.m. (varsity only)
Jan. 24: vs. Brimfield
Jan. 28: vs. Illini Bluffs @ Glasford
Jan. 31: vs. OM*
Feb. 4 & 6-7: Regional
Notes: R-B will have a jv team this season. PH and Tremont are new to the schedule, while Eureka is off. Central Catholic’s jv took Deer Creek-Mackinaw’s place in the Lexington Classic, as the Chiefs went to Clinton. A new rule that goes into effect this season will have a running clock at the start of the fourth quarter should one squad have a lead of at least 30 points. The Rockets will play a total of six back-to-back games within the first two weeks. Nafziger’s assistant is Greg Rasmuson, who directed the Rockets to a 54-55 record over four seasons, highlighted by the program’s second regional title in ’14-15. The other regional crown was in ’80. Shelli Nafziger was a standout volleyball player first with R-B, two years at Illinois Central College and two more at Division I Western Michigan. Presently, she is the principal at Germantown Hills Elementary. The other new faces in the TCC include Anthony Waites (DePue), Kayli O’Flanagan (OM), Cathryne Moore (Peoria Ch.) and Ted O’Boyle (Seneca, second season, but first in the league). Midland’s Jim Foster is the longest tenured coach in the league as he enters his seventh year.