It was a star-studded night on April 3 when Chester High School celebrated its 2018-19 basketball program, particularly its record-setting varsity squad. And while the Awards Night was clearly a celebration of "team," if there was one star that shone a little brighter, it was senior Keith Kiner III, the team MVP.
Varsity coach Brad Norman paid tribute to Kiner with a list of his accomplishments on the court -- more than 1,200 points scored, the fourth-most in CHS history; setting the CHS record for blocks; named to the 3rd team All-State in both AP and coaches polls; named to the All-South team; MVP of the Black Diamond Conference, and much more.
But it was Kiner's character that Norman lingered on.
"Keith was one of our most important leaders on the team," Norman said. "He never missed practice and worked his tail off to get better. Keith was coachable; he always did what we needed to help the team.
"The way he interacted with our fans this year says a lot about his character," Norman added. "He is kind. He never let his ego get in the way of team success. He is very good with kids and was highly respected by the officials."
Norman paid tribute to his 26-6 varsity team, saying the way they played this year and in recent years has brought about a resurgence of basketball excitement at Chester High School and in the community.
"These young men are exactly what a great program is built around," he said. "They have done nothing but show respect and class to their school, the community and young fans. Chester basketball is here to stay because of these guys."
The past four CHS varsity teams all were 20-win seasons.
"Seniors, you have won more games than any other team to play a sport at Chester High School," Norman declared.
The team highlights:
• Swept the Black Diamond Conference 12-0.
• Ranked in the Top 25 in Class 2A most of the season.
• Ranked in the Top 10 of the ABV Poll the entire year (getting as high as #4)
• Won the first conference championship in school history (beating every team by at least 15 points)
• Won 17 games in a row
• Were Chester Invitational Tournament Champions (first time a CHS team has won in 43 years)
• Were consolation champions at the Pinckneyville Tournament
• Named the ESPN-103.5 Southern Illinois Team of the Week (First time in school history)
The major awards winners received certificates or plaques.
Matt Korando: Murphysboro Sophomore All-Tournament Team
Keith Kiner, Ian Reith and Colin Wingerter: Black Diamond All-Conference Team
Keith Kiner: BDC Most Valuable Player
Keith Kiner: 3rd Team All State (Top 30 in the State in 2A)
Keith Kiner: IBCA All-South Team (Top 10 in Southern Illinois)
Colin Wingerter: Most 3-Pointers made (43)
Jakob Cushman: Free Throw Leader (83 percent)
DeOndre Martin: Best 2-Point field goal percentage (70%)
Keith Kiner III: Most Points Score: (1208 career points; 15.6 PPG)
Keith Kiner III: Most Blocks (161)
Ian Reith: Best Rebounding (332 rebounds; 7.2 RPG)
Ian Reith: Most Assists (110; 3.5 APG)
Matt Korando: Most Charges Taken
Colin Wingerter: Most Improved
Jakob Cushman: Mr. Hustle
Keith Kiner: Most Valuable Player
The varsity team
Freshmen varsity players were Jared Landeros, Jordan Merideth, Ethan Stumpe, Aiden Jany and Isaac Jany.
"These guys did a great job of showing up on time and being there, committed to the grind, even though they didn't play much at the varsity level," Norman said.
"They did, however, contribute. I loved this group," he added. "The coaching staff has high hopes for this class. We are excited about the future."
The four sophomores were recognized -- Jordan Hughes, Eli Hughes, Nate Heffernan and Matt Korando. Norman noted that Korando had the most minutes as he filled in for several injured starters.
"Jordan Hughes has really improved and is becoming a scoring threat. Both Eli Hughes and Nate Heffernan have potential. We will see a lot of these guys down the road."
Three juniors -- Chett Andrews, Ian Reith and DeOndre Martin -- were recognized.
"Andrews always has a great spirit and attitude," Norman said, predicting he will contribute a lot next year.
Martin, meanwhile, was a transfer from Sparta, who is focused and is becoming a good defender, Norman said. "He will be a key player in 2019-20."
Coach Norman called Reith a great teammate. "He can play all five positions and he sees the floor well," the coach said. "He made the all-tournament team at the Trico/Murphy Tournament. He made the 2019 CIT all-tournament team too."
Norman then turned to his seniors: Colin Wingerter, Jakob Cushman, Drake Bollman and Keith Kiner III.
Wingerter, he said, is a quiet, but fierce competitor.
"Colin became our best shooter midway through the season and his confidence made him one of the best shooters in the BDC," Norman said. "Colin made the Black Diamond Conference All-Conference Team and was among the top 11 players in the league. He knew his role on our team and became a quick defensive player."
Cushman was described by Norman as a "blue collar guy", who worked hard in the offseason and came into his senior year carrying some muscle.
"Jakob loves playing 1-on-1. He communicates well and holds people accountable. He has great character on the court, at home and in the community. He was the first man in the gym every day!"
Bollman's leadership and maturity earned him the title of "Dad" of the team, Norman said. "He never really cared abut the number of points he scored," Norman said, but he scored plenty and guarded the most talented players on opposing teams.
He was named to the All-Tournament Team in the Trico/Murphysboro Tournament, and as the year went on, became a threat from the three-point line. "He always has a smile on his face and a good word to say," Norman said. "He will definitely do something good in life and I think he will be a great dad!"
JV Coach Chris Toledo presented letters and pins to those players who earned them.
JV players were Matt Korando, Jordan Merideth, Jared Landeros, Aiden Jany, Nate Heffernan, Deondre Martin, Danny Clendenin, Eli Hughes, Alex Gruenewald, Jordan Hughes, Ethan Stumpe, Nate Fricke, Isaac Jany, Chett Andrews, Cooper Eggemeyer, and Marcus Murphy.
Martin, he said, is full of athleticism and raw talent.
"DeOndre has improved so much and he is now a better player and teammate," Toledo added, predicting that with a lot of work in the offseason, Martin could be one of the best guards in the area next season.
Andrews, who will also play strictly varsity next season, was the JV's best 3-point shooter.
"Chett made 37 of the team's 92 treys this season which was 40 percent of the team's 3-pointers," Toledo said. "Chett knows that there is much more to the game than shooting three's, however."
The JV finished with an overall record of 9-10 and a conference record of 6-5.
"Some games we lost that we should have won," he said. "We were just inconsistent. These guys never quit, however, and they fought throughout the season. By the end of the year, they were playing pretty good."
"In my five years of coaching the JV, no other team grew as much as these guys or improved as much as these guys."
Jordan Hughes led a balanced scoring attack averaging 9.5 points per game. Matt Korando followed with 6.9 PPG. DeOndre Martin averaged 6.8 PPG followed by Chett Andrews (6.3), Jordan Merideth (5.4), Jared Landeros (4.6), and Aiden Jany (2.9).
Korando led the JV in free throws with 33 for 54. As a team the JV shot just over 50.4 percent from the line.
Toledo said the JV boys are a great bunch of kids and that if they follow the great leadership of the departing seniors, they would do great things for the CHS basketball program.
"I am excited to see what these guys can accomplish in the following year," he said.
Freshman Coach Ben Hunter introduced his squad: Aiden Jany, Jordan Meredith, Blake Huffman, Brendan Baughman, Cooper Eggemeyer, Jared Landeros, Luke Miller, Kaden Freytag, Ethan Stumpe, Isaac Jany and Marcus Murphy.
"This group of young men is very talented, athletic and exciting," Hunter said. "We have a good core that will develop to be a successful team in the next three years. If they all stay out we should be a good group! Thanks to all of the parents for your help, support and encouragement this season."
Misti Price, the mother of Jordan and Eli Hughes, was presented with an embroidered Yellow Jackets camera strap for maintaining the basketball website and Facebook page. She also shot and produced the video that chronicled the season -- and played in the background during the Awards Night.
Team Manager Noah Colonel was given a gift bag for all of his hard work throughout the season.