WOODLAWN
BY JACK BULLOCK
Everything that has needed to be said about the Woodlawn Cardinals' basketball program has been said.
Championships, banners hung in the gym, all-state players, coaching awards, etc.

It all ads up to a dominating high school program that has few peers when it comes to the success in the last ten seasons of four-class basketball in Illinois.

In the past decade, eight regional titles, six sectional titles, four trips to the state finals in Peoria and four tournament trophies from their appearances at Carver Arena.

Last February not a lot was expected from a team that struggled during the regular season as they entered the regional tournament as a seven seed in their part of the sub-sectional and were unranked heading into a regional at Wayne City.

But head coach Brian Gamber got his club playing their best basketball at the end as they took care of business in winning their eighth regional title in ten seasons and followed that up by winning sectional title number six.

They topped Thompsonville and MTC rivals Waltonville and Webber Township to nab regional title number (10) for boy's basketball, counting two consecutive in 1987 and 1988.

They dispatched Mounds Meridian in the sectional semifinals and then topped Gallatin County in the title game 50-40 to win the NCOE 1A Sectional.

They nearly made it back to Peoria as they had a double-digit lead on eventual state champ Effingham St. Anthony in the third quarter of the supersectional but they struggled some in the second half and narrowly lost at SIU Arena.

The Cardinals finished the season at 18-15, 6-3 in the Midland Trail Conference.

This season Woodlawn will be young, but very talented, as they seem to be almost every season heading into November, with “talented” being the key word.

“Our team will be extremely young, but are very tough and competitive. They will continue to get better and better every day and hopefully by the end of the year we will a tough team to beat. It’s a very exciting group to be around because they all love the game of basketball and have committed to working extremely hard to get positive results,” said Coach Gamber, a Mt. Vernon native who has been at the school for a few years now after a stint as head coach at Waltonville.

The Cardinals sent away senior guard Blake Wollerman, the top scorer for the Cardinals a season ago, along with two other senior starters; Jordan Hoppa and Zack Ashby.

However this season Woodlawn does have some talent returning, just like every other year it seems.

Jackson Bennett, a 6-foot junior, logged a lot of minutes last season as one of the Cardinals' starters.

Blake McKay, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, was one of the first players off of the bench for Coach Gamber last winter.

That translates into a lot of experience in the backcourt as both played major roles in the postseason run a year ago.

The lone returning senior from last season is Blake Fewkes, a 6-foot-2 forward, who has earned a spot in the lineup.

“Blake has continued to work and progress every year and now he will be a major contributor to our team this year. He has good length and athleticism and we will need his length for rebounding,” said Coach Gamber.

Look for Chase Hollenkamp, a 6-foot sophomore, and 6-foot-1 sophomore Race Rynski to be in the opening night lineup.

Both, according to Coach Gamber, had great summers and are ready to move forward.

Coach Gamber added the names of freshman twins; 5-foot-11 Hunter and Hayden England.

“They (Hunter and Hayden) are very competitive and scrappy, which allows them to be very versatile for us,” added Coach Gamber.

This program has gotten to this point by strengthening the schedule each season to be prepared for a run to Peoria, and it has worked so far.

“We have a very good schedule. Our first tournament of the year is the Kaskaskian Classic at Carlyle where we will see Pinckneyville, Carlyle, Greenville, Okawville, Hillsboro, Flora, and Freeburg. Our non-conference opponents include Christopher, Altamont, Flora, Herrin, Goreville, Sesser-Valier, Cairo and Metro East Lutheran,” said Coach Gamber. “Our conference is going to have several very good teams again this year. Webber returns almost their entire team, Wayne City has a lot back as well as a transfer, and several other teams are improving.”

OUTLOOK – Each season, since the beginning of the class change, the Road to Peoria in southern Illinois has went through Woodlawn. In the six seasons that the Cardinals didn't get to Carver Arena, four of the representatives in the Final Four beat Woodlawn to get there. Sesser-Valier twice, Nokomis and last year Effingham St. Anthony. Three of the four (Sesser once, Nokomis and St. Anthony) reached the title game with the Bulldogs winning the title last March. ABV believes this trend will continue as there will be no detour around this Jefferson County powerhouse. Hard work, stressing the fundamentals of the game and good coaching in the system top to bottom has gotten this program where it is at. Don't look for this to change anytime soon. The Cardinals are still the “chalk” of the Deep South. They have the past performances to prove it.

2017-18 VARSITY SCHEDULE
N28-D2 Carlyle "Kaskaskian Classic" J13 Herrin

D8

Odin J15-20 MTC Tournament @ Woodlawn
D9 Christopher J23 @ Grayville
D12 Centralia Christ Our Rock Lutheran J27 Goreville
D15 @ Waltonville J30 @ Sesser-Valier
D19 @ Bluford Webber Township F2 @ Cisne
D26-29 Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament F6 @ Wayne City
J5 @ Sandoval F9 Metro-East Lutheran
J6 Altamont F16 Cairo
J9 @ Flora F19-23 IHSA Regional TBD