Photo by Bill Roseberry
Pictured are the four seniors for the '15-16 Roxana boys' basketball squad: Chance Foss, Trace Gentry, Chris Pulley and Blake Vandiver.
Take it from Mark Briggs. He has a good thing going with the Roxana boys’ basketball program.
Briggs, a Roxana graduate, is beginning his 16th season as the Shells’ head coach. He has helped rebuild a program that hasn’t had a losing season since 2009-10.
The Shells went 16-16 last year and snared a regional championship. The three previous seasons, they teamed for 66 victories, including a regional title in 2013, their first one since 2000.
So Briggs likes what he sees at Roxana and hopes the Shells can keep things moving forward. They open their season next week in the 18-team Metro East Lutheran Thanksgiving Tournament, which features an array of quality small-school teams. Roxana is Class 2A in the four-class system.
“We feel like we have some tradition going from a little taste of success,” Briggs said of Roxana’s revived ways.
Seven of their last eight seasons have been positive ones. Career scoring and rebounder leader Hunter Reine, now a 6-foot-9 junior at the UMSL, spent the last two years at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.
Briggs added, “I’ve been the beneficiary of some good teams. And the kids on this year’s team believe they can compete.”
Seniors Trace Gentry, Blake Vandiver, Chance Foss and Chris Pulley could be among Roxana’s leaders. Gentry, Vandiver and Foss likely will be starters again this season.
“Our seniors have been a part of two regional championships and another regional final game,” Briggs noted.
Vandiver, a 5-8 guard, hit the shot heard round Roxana last year. His 35-foot buzzer beater enabled the Shells to upset the host and top-seeded Piasa Birds, 56-53 in overtime during the title game of the Class 2A Southwestern Regional.
He also was a featured running back for the Shells’ football team that advanced to the playoffs for the second successive season. A shoulder injury kept him sidelined for a couple of games, though overall, Vandiver did manage to tally 16 touchdowns and rush for 773 yards.
“Blake can score in different ways and we will also be looking at him to provide a lot of assists this year,” Briggs said. “He’s a reliable and gritty kid.
“We have a lot of gritty kids.”
Vandiver will be counted on to supply some stout defense that the graduated Randy Skiff supplied last season. Skiff emerged as Roxana’s most underrated player, Briggs said.
“Randy will be hard to replace because of all the intangibles he brought us. He was a leader by action,” Briggs said.
Gentry, a 6-2 guard/forward, averaged a team-high 15.8 points last season, and could manufacture more punch this winter.
“The strength of our guards is with our shooters in Trace and Zach Golenor,” Briggs said. “Trace is — by far — the best shooter I’ve ever coached. Zach is a three-year starter and primed for a good season.”
Golenor is a junior and will work closely with Vandiver, Gentry and Foss. Last season, Golenor averaged 9.9 ppg, which was second best to Gentry.
The 5-9 Foss is coming off a broken collarbone suffered halfway through the football season. He served as the Shells’ quarterback, so Briggs knows what Foss brings to the basketball court.
“He’s a great athlete and very intelligent one,” Briggs added. “He could be huge in our transition game.”
Cody McMillen, a 6-5, 180-pound junior center, gives the Shells’ a presence in the post. Sophomore Jordan Hawkins, who started at times last season, decided not to come out for basketball. He’s concentrating on football and track.
“We like the way Cody has progressed,” Briggs said. “He had a good summer and he’s a scorer. We feel that we will put five guys that can score on the floor. On any given night, anyone of them can score in double digits. That’s a rarity in high school basketball.”
Zach Haas, a 6-1 junior; Jacob Maguire, a 5-10, 200-pound junior; Dakota Stumpf, a 5-8 junior and Pulley, a 6-1, 200-pound senior; also should log plenty of playing time.
“The basketball IQ of this group is high and they know how to win,” Briggs said. “A lot of them have done that in baseball, football and basketball. They believe in themselves.”
Briggs believes that the South Central Conference will showcase a congested look this season.
“It’ll be balanced. There’s a lot of parity in the league,” he said.
PLAYERS HT POS
Chance Foss 5-9 G
Trace Gentry 6-2 F-C
Chris Pulley 6-1 G
Blake Vandiver 5-8 G
Zach Golenor 5-11 G
Zach Haas 6-1 F
Jacob Maguire 5-10 F
Cody McMillen 6-5 C
Dakota Stumpf 5-8 G