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Dukes chasing first conference title in 47 years

Long overdue

Published: Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Dixon's Kyle LeBlanc shoots during a game against LaSalle-Peru this season. The Dukes are a game behind Ottawa in the NIB-12 West standings going into Friday's game against the Pirates at Lancaster Gym.

The year was 1967.

Lyndon Johnson was the country's president. The Packers beat the Chiefs in Super Bowl I. The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Clubs Band. And, the Dixon Dukes won the NCIC.

Now, 47 years later, Dixon is in position to win its first conference title since.

"We look at that every day in our gym," third-year Dukes coach Jason Mead said. "That board is on the wall. I remind the kids every day. I've been reminding them since I got hired. We put emphasis on getting on the banner."

Getting on that banner seemed a long way off the past three seasons, when Dixon compiled a mark of 8-76.

One season after a 3-25 campaign, the Dukes are 19-4 overall and 7-1 in the Northern Illinois Big 12 West. They are a game behind front-running Ottawa, which thumped Dixon 56-37 in Ottawa on Jan. 10.

"That game is about as bad as this team can play," Dukes junior standout Cal Jarrett said. "We didn't execute at all. We're ready to step up this time. If we play our game, we will this game. There's no reason we can't beat them."

"It was miserable," Mead said. "We did not take care of the basketball. We were tentative. They're really big and take away a lot around the basket."

The teams meet again Friday at the Dukes' Lancaster Gym, with just one more conference game thereafter.

"It means a lot. We know where we started from," said Jarrett, who has been a varsity starter since his freshman season. "We know we have a decent chance to do something that hasn't been done in a long time."

Dixon's rapid rise has likely surprised many, including the Dukes themselves to an extent.

"During the fall, I could see how much we all improved," Jarrett said. "I could tell it would be a lot better. I didn't realize we'd be this good."

"I knew it was a possibility," Mead said. "We had the potential to do it, but a lot of things had to fall into place, and they have."

At the beginning of the season, the Dukes set three goals: win 20 games, win the conference championship, and win a regional championship. Their last regional title came in 1986.

With a win Friday, 20 wins would be checked off the list, and Dixon would be tied with Ottawa atop the conference with one game remaining.

A regional title also seems a very realistic possibility. The Dukes' are in the Class 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional with Mendota (17-8), LaSalle-Peru (9-13), Sterling (7-13), and Rock Falls (6-17).

Ottawa (20-1, 8-0 NIB-12 West) at Dixon (19-4, 7-1)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Lancaster Gym, Dixon

At stake: With two games remaining, Dixon is vying for its first conference title since 1967.

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