Advantage News | Caleb Motsinger
Granite City Warrior senior Dylan Gray is ranked 6th in Illinois in the 195 weight class.
GRANITE CITY – Here is a look at the winter sports teams thus far this year at Granite City High School:
It’s been a tough season thus far for the Warriors; through Friday night’s home game against Belleville East, GCHS has a record of 2-13 overall, 0-7 in the Southwestern Conference.
What the record doesn’t indicate, though, is how hard the Warriors – who have no seniors on the roster – have played. To coach Steve Rustio, it’s a matter of learning how to compete at this level, especially in a league as difficult as the SWC.
“Although we have to go with an extremely young and inexperienced team, I am very proud that our guys are learning how to compete at the varsity level,” Rustio said. “I believe at times we are ahead of schedule when it comes to what we have to do each and every night by starting four sophomores and a junior.
“Our margin is just not real great at the moment and the physicality of the varsity level takes its toll over the course of a 32-minute contest.”
The Warriors have scored a pair of good wins this season; they defeated Triad 51-49 early in the season at the Taylorville Thanksgiving tournament, then downed University City 62-53 in their last game at the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic. They’ve also hung close to both East St. Louis and Collinsville in league games before bad breaks broke open what had been close games.
“We knew going in it was gong to be a very tall order,” Rustio said, “especially dealing with the physicality of the (SWC). It takes its toll. We’ve got our kids playing against other kids 2-3 years older than we are in a lot of cases. But I think this is really going to bode well for us in the future.
“The main thing we have to do is not worry about our record but keep our focus on our goals, on our effort, on staying coachable. We need to go hard every night, especially on defense, and cut our turnovers down.”
Sophomore guard Kenny Berry leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per game, with sophomore twin brothers Tre Allen and Ron Allen second and third with 9.5 PPG and 5.6 PPG. Berry also leads in free-throw percentage with 82 percent, followed by Raheim Beckwith and Tez Jennings with 75 percent and Tre Allen with 72 percent. Ron Allen is the leading rebounder at 5.3 RPG, with Tre Allen following with 4.6 and Berry with 3.7.
Others on the team include juniors Dominique Clark, Darrell Miller, Tony Jennings, Jalan Banks and Davaughtez Jennings and sophomores Willie Beckwith and Trezon Smith. Rustio is assisted by Mark Jiles and Aaron Dye
GCHS is off until Jan. 31, when they visit Alton in a SWC tilt; the next home game is Feb. 4 against Waterloo.
Much like the boys’ team, the girls basketballers at GCHS are young; there are also no seniors on the roster. Through Thursday night’s game at Belleville East, the Warriors are 3-13 overall and 1-8 in the SWC.
GCHS defeated O’Fallon 49-43 in overtime in the league opener and also scored an impressive 46-44 win over Lutheran North in the Orchard Farm tournament in early December before just falling short to Francis Howell North, one of the top teams in the St. Louis area, the next night.
“We are a young team which features seven juniors,” Warrior coach Raffi Karibian said. “We are working hard and showing steady improvement.”
Through Thursday’s game, Catherine Jakich leads the team in scoring with a 11.7 PPG average, followed by Melanie Joyce with 9.1 PPG and Malori Meador with 7.2 PPG. Jakich also leads in free-throw percentage with 72 percent, followed by Joyce at 65.2 percent and Meador at 63.9. The three also lead in rebounding; Jakich averages 6.3 RPG, Meador 5.6 and Joyce 3.2.
Others on the roster include juniors Alina Vietri, Abbie Daily, Amy Guo, Lexi Dreste and Jessica Harris and sophomores Allisan Whitt, Mercedes Gregory and Katie Bloodworth. Karibian is assisted by Whitney Sykes and Aaron Stried.
Next up for GCHS is a league game at Alton Jan. 21, a non-conference game at Triad Jan. 23 and a SWC matchup at Edwardsville Feb. 4. The Warriors return home Feb. 6 for a SWC game against Collinsville.
Much like both basketball teams, the GCHS wrestling team is young; the Warriors have but two senior starters in Justin Nelson at 113 and Dylan Gray at 195. Both are currently state-ranked; Nelson is 11th in his weight class, while Gray is sixth. Chris Keeler is another senior who has started at times this year at 220.
The Warriors, who have an overall dual-meet record of 16-4 overall and 4-1 in the SWC, themselves are ranked No. 14 in the state in Class 3A; most of the schools ahead of them represent the Chicago area and northern Illinois, including nationally ranked Oak Park-River Forest, and have also lost to Indiana power Mater Dei of Evansville.
“I’m proud of our kids,” said Warrior coach George Kirgan. “They’re fighting and giving everything they can. We’re making young mistakes, but that’s understandable.
“We’re battle-tested; we’ve wrestled some of the top teams in the nation.”
Among the teams the Warriors – who lead the nation in high school dual-meet victories – have upended this year include Chicago St. Rita, who was No. 8 in Illinois at the time; Roxana, the 12th-ranked Class 1A team in Illinois; East St. Louis and Mount Zion, who were ranked Class 2A teams; Civic Memorial of Bethalto; Fort Zumwalt East; Jefferson City (Mo.) Helias; and Springfield Southeast.
The Warriors finished 10th in the 52nd William “Red” Schmitt Holiday Tournament, but weren’t that far from a top-three finish. Podium finishes for the Warriors included Nelson, fifth at 112; Clayton Derousse, fifth at 145; Alex Brooks, fourth at 170; Sam Tamayo, second at 195; and Cole Whitford, fourth at 285.
Through Jan. 13, Gray led the team in pins with 23, with sophomore Matt Wylie (wrestling at 220) second with 13 and junior Devon Simpson (wrestling at 138) third with seven. Gray leads the team in scoring with 202 points, followed by Simpson second with 133.5 and Wylie third with 102.
Kirgan is assisted by John Venne, TJ Slay and Emmanuel Brooks, and the Granite City Wrestling Club continues to provide a good feeder program; Khris Whelan teaches technique to those learning how to wrestle.
The Warriors were taking part in the Geneseo Tournament last weekend; results were not available at press time. The next dual meet for the Warriors is Jan. 23 against Belleville West. Senior night is set for Jan. 30 at a JV meet against Collinsville. The Warriors will host the IHSA Class 3A Regional tournament Feb. 8.
Much like the other teams this winter, Granite City’s club hockey team has taken its lumps at times; the Warriors currently sport a record of 2-6-4 for eight points in the Class 2A North Division of the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association.
Despite the record, Warrior coach Frank Parker has been pleased overall with his team’s effort. “We’ve done all right; we have taken our lumps,” Parker said. “We’re not an unskilled team, we’ve had some bad breaks and have taken penalties at bad times. You can’t do that against good teams.
“We’ve been in our games, we’ve just had some bad luck.”
Kyle Parker leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and eight assists for 21 points, followed by Jonathan Ozanich (13 goals, three assists, 16 points), Eddie Lemmon (five goals, six assists, 11 points) and Cole DeYoung (four goals, six assists, 10 points). Ryan Bruce has been in goal for GCHS this year, sporting a 4.46 goals-against average and a save percentage of 83.4.
The Warriors have three regular-season games remaining, and Parker thinks the team might be able to make a playoff run if things break right. “We’ve got the skill and talent levels to make a run,” Parker said. “If things break right for us, I think we can do well.”
The Warriors were scheduled to host Triad Monday night at Wilson Park Ice Rink; their final two games are Jan. 23 against O’Fallon at East Alton Ice Rink and Jan. 30 at Wilson Park against Belleville (a combined team from Belleville East and West).
The Warrior bowlers, like other teams, haven’t has as good a season as they would have liked; through Jan. 10, the boys were sixth in the Southwestern division of the Southern Illinois High School Bowling Conference with a record of 1-5, while the girls stood at 0-5.
The Warrior boys were averaging 966 in their matches, with a high game of 1,035 and a high series of 2,954; the girls were averaging 621, with a high game of 754 and series of 2,028.
Individually, Nathan Lijewski led GCHS with a 205 average, followed by Ryan Kovach at 202 and Justin Simpson at 199. The year’s high games have come from Kovach with a 257, Simpson with a 256 and Lijewski with a 245; the top three series are Simpson with a 696, Kovach with a 690 and Lijewski with a 657.
On the girls’ side, Shelby Hall leads with a 159 average, followed by Kennedy Rainwater with a 141 and Ashley Heiman with a 140. The top three games have come from Hall with a 219, Rainwater with a 186 and Heiman with a 183; top series have been bowled by Hall with a 496, Heiman with a 457 and Rainwate with a 450.
Both teams are coached by Melanie Williams and Jerry Lakin.