Kyle Watson, Blue Ridge Boys Basketball Hopes to Build on Successful 2010-11 Season

FARMER CITY, Ill. -- Only a year removed from a 4-22 campaign in 2009-10, the Knights finished last season with a 19-14 record and three points away from a sectional title.

Deer Creek-Mackinaw ended the Cinderella story with a 64-61 victory in the championship game of the Glasford Illini Bluffs Sectional.

Going into this season, Blue Ridge coach Kyle Watson says he hopes to build on last season's success and turn the dream season into a consistent reality for his program.

"Obviously, we want to make it to where 19-14 and the sectional finals is not just once in 10 years," Watson said. "We'd like to make it more often, and hopefully make it an every-year type of deal down the road. That's obviously a key part having the success we had last year and then try build on that success. I'm still hungry, and I hope they're still hungry, to make another nice run again this year as well."

Although he has yet to show the film from the sectional final to his team, Watson said he hopes his players have the game in memory.

"I want them to remember the success we had and remember how close we were," Watson said. "And hopefully that becomes something that happens more often."

For last season's success to be repeated this year will be a challenge, as the Knights are returning only three varsity players from the previous year.

Gone are Jack Plunk, a unanimous choice for the Heart of Illinois Conference first team, and HOIC second-team member Tanner Trent.

Watson said 6-foot-3 forward Tucker Johnson will take over the leadership role in their place.

"He showed this summer, when we go to summer tournaments, when the kids come and play in the gym and come into the weight room to lift, he showed a leadership role there, making sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing," Watson said. "He's been a vocal leader so far in practice. This is his third year being with me, so he knows what I expect now, and he can portray that onto the kids.

"A lot of the kids [are in] their third year with me, so they're more familiar with the program. They're more familiar with the things that I run, and we're having some good success in practice so far with it."

Guards Austin Maxwell and Conner Builta are the two other seniors returning for Blue Ridge. After that, the Knights will bring up talent from a junior varsity team that, according to Watson, finished 16-6 last year.

"Our JV team had a very strong year last year. They had a lot of success, so some of the JV players are going to be counted on to step up into varsity roles," Watson said. "Some of the sophomores are now juniors. Travys Nichols and Jon Jones are going to come in and play big roles for us.

"Michael Plunk was a freshman starting last year on JV, and is going to have to come in and play a strong role for us. Mark Plunk is a junior coming in off the JV team. C.J. Bishop [are juniors] coming in off the JV team to help us out. And then some people that were freshmen on the JV team last year -- Clint O'Neal and Will Duggins -- are going to have to come in and help us out as well.

"Some of the sophomores have been practicing with both JV and varsity right now. Obviously, some of the sophomores [from last year] have to step up into some starting roles this year for us."

Despite the new blood on the 2011-12 varsity team, Watson said he is not worried about the question marks heading into the new season.

"We had some questions coming into last year, and we have some questions coming into this year," Watson said. "The questions got answered last year, so hopefully we can answer those questions again this year."

If Johnson proves to be a reliable leader and the former JV players are able to produce at the varsity level, Watson may be able to turn the Blue Ridge program into a traditional power. Not unlike Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, of which Watson is a former colleague.

"I'd like it to almost come in to where I came from -- Boylan [Catholic] -- where [sectionals] was the expectation," Watson said. "That's what the expectation was year-in and year-out, and not just the farthest in school history, and that's what I try to portray on the kids. Hopefully that's what they'll portray on the floor this year."

The Knights will start the 2011-12 season at the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Thanksgiving Tournament next week. They will begin playing in the tournament against Tri-Point on Monday at 5 p.m.

Blue Ridge will tune up for the tournament with a Blue and White Scrimmage, which will be held on Friday at 6 p.m.

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