Releasing our All-Area boys and girls basketball teams over the past couple of weeks marks the symbolic end of the winter sports season.
During the course of our putting together the girls All-Area Player of the Year story on Eastland guard Erin Henze, I was talking to her teammate Lydia Coatney, who told me “there is no award for character, but if there were, she would get it.”
Well no, we typically have not given out that award, but no time like the present.
So, away we go.
Erin Henze, Eastland (by order of Lydia Coatney)
Obviously a great player, but also the person the Cougars leaned on when it really mattered down the stretch as Eastland ran to a state championship.
Here are a handful of other awards handed out, by my own opinion, in categories that we would not normally be handing out awards, but hey, these are far from normal times.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, BOYS
Wyatt Wetzell, Dixon
The Dukes got off to a slow start in December and January, then started to turn things around later in the year.
A big part of that turnaround coincided with the 5-11 freshman securing his spot in Dixon’s starting lineup. He scored seven points off the bench in a January 10 loss to Winnebago. A few days later, he got his first start in a game against North Boone, and the Dukes got their first win of the season.
Wetzell had a nine-point game at Sterling’s MLK Tournament against Catalyst Maria and a seven-rebound game against Fulton.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, GIRLS
Shelby Veltrop, Morrison
Let’s preface this by saying this is a close call between her and fellow freshman Lindee Poper, of Polo, who herself had more than a few quality games this year.
But Veltrop averaged 10.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on her way to second- team all-conference consideration. Her 3.1 blocks per game led the area, edging out West Carroll sophomore Cora Collins.
In fact, when Veltrop and Poper faced each other in the Class 1A Eastland Regional quarterfinal, it was 17 points from Veltrop pacing the Fillies while Poper added 14. Poper’s Marcos got the win, however.
Throughout the season, even as Morrison faced its struggles as a team, the freshman was consistently scoring in double figures for the Fillies.
MOST IMPROVED, BOYS
Our boys Player of the Year, the Comets’ sophomore guard went from averaging just over 10 points per game last year to over 20 points per game this year.
Granted, he was plenty good as a freshman, but he found a new level this year, spearheading the Comets defense, which often meant transition chances for him on the other end of the floor, and showing an ability to get to the rim in half-court offensive sets time and time again.
MOST IMPROVED, GIRLS
Karli, like her twin sister Kylie, was a huge part of the Rockets in the 2018-19 season, but mostly as a defensive stopper.
But this season, the Rock Falls junior guard was more and more a force on offense. She averaged 7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for a Rockets team that reached the regional final, a game in which she scored 11 points. That was a couple of days after a 13-point game in a win over West Carroll and a week after a 12-point game in the regular season against Byron.
OUT OF NOWHERE POSTSEASON
Cooper Willman, Sterling
Willman was pretty good in the regular season, but not score-27-in-a-regional good.
The Warriors senior averaged a more-than-respectable 11.3 points per game this year, but against Rochelle in the Class 3A Sterling Regional semifinal, what proved to be his final game at Musgrove Fieldhouse, he shot 11 of 17 from the field for 27 points, including three 3-pointers. He also pulled in a team-high seven rebounds.
OUT OF NOWHERE POSTSEASON PERFORMANCE, GIRLS
Gabby Jones, Amboy
The Clippers post player seemed to save her best games for the biggest games.
In the regional final against Fulton, she grabbed 12 rebounds to go with her six points.
The following week in a Class 1A Pecatonica Sectional semifinal win over Galena, Jones had 14 points and seven rebounds.
Jones, at 5-8, is not getting rebounds on height alone, but watching her box out properly shot after shot after shot is still pretty impressive. Against Fulton, she was fighting for rebounds with Emily Schipper, a full four inches taller, and still getting into position to grab the rebound over and over.
BEST ATMOSPHERE, BOYS
Sterling at Rock Falls
A good measure of a crowd is how far you have to park away from the gym.
As the Golden Warriors visited Tabor for a game on January 4, I had to park four blocks away.
Inside, the crowd was elbow-to-elbow and if anyone else had wanted to see the Rockets’ 63-49 win over Sterling, the fire marshal may have had a problem with that.
BEST ATMOSPHERE, GIRLS
Amboy vs. Fulton, regional final
At some point, we’re going to have to find a way to play Amboy postseason girls games in a college gym. Or maybe at the United Center.
Any of the three Eastland-Amboy games could have counted for this as well, but the regional final, on the Clippers’ home floor, was a special scene as first Fulton fans were on their feet as the Steamers jumped into the early lead, then Clippers’ fans got into the mix as Amboy rallied for the win.
BEST OVERSHADOWED PLAYERS, BOYS
Kellen Henze and Brock Coatney, Eastland
It’s hard to be part of a 27-win team that went unbeaten in conference when you aren’t even the best basketball team in your school.
Imagine having double figures in points and not even being the best player in your family.
While the Eastland girls, led by Kellen Henze’s big sister and Brock Coatney’s twin, were busy winning a state championship, the Cougar boys were getting 12.4 points, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game from Henze and 10.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game from Coatney.
BEST OVERSHADOWED PLAYER, GIRLS
Kylie Hill, West Carroll
Madison Haynes is the player that makes the Thunder go, but Hill is the player that stops other teams from getting going.
A strong second option toto the 5-7 junior Haynes, the 5-5 sophomore had eight points, eight rebounds and four steals in a regional quarterfinal win over Oregon.
But it’s on the defensive end where she shines, leading the area with 4.5 steals per game. Haynes was second with 3.4.
BEST DUEL, BOYS
Trey Woolsey, Oregon, vs. Marcus Hill, Rockford Christian
When their two teams met November 30 in the championship game of Oregon’s Thanksgiving Tournament, both stars had been putting on quite a show throughout the week.
Woolsey had games of 38, 42 and 19 to get the Hawks into the tournament final while Hill had games of 30, 25 and 39.
When they met in the final, Woolsey had 12 points in the first quarter alone. For Hill, it was the second half where he came alive. After a pair of early 3s, he scored 19 in the second half.
Hill ended up with more points than Woolsey, 26-23, but it was Woolsey’s team coming out on top to win the tournament title.
BEST DUEL, GIRLS
Erin Henze, Eastland, vs. the entire Tri-County team
It happens from time to time in lopsided games with an elite player on one side that one player will outscore the entire other team.
That is not usually the case in a state semifinal.
Eastland’s 70-28 win over Tri-County was never really in doubt, especially after the Cougars held the Titans to one point in the second quarter.
The only question by the end turned out to be if Henze could outscore the Titans on her own. She shot 11 for 18 from the field, 7 for 10 from 3-point range, and checked out of the game with 3:27 left in the fourth. At that point she had 29. The Titans as a team had 25.
Tri-County got another layup and one of two free throws in the final minutes, but a couple of other misses from the field and a missed free throw meant Henze preserved the 29-28 win over the Titans.
She also had more assists than Tri-County (7-2) and hit more 3-pointers (7-1).