RLC Hall welcomes Olympian Lalang, ‘decorated’ Cheruiyot, legendary Coach Lee, NJCAA Champion cagers

By Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee

INA, Ill. (March 25, 2019) - Friends of Rend Lake College, the RLC Sports Hall of Fame and those being honored will gather Saturday, April 20, on the Ina campus to welcome the 20th Class of HOF Inductees.

Greetings . . .

  • • Two native Kenyans who took the long way around the track and cross-country to gain All-America status numerous times, even though neither was on-campus a full two years.
  • • To the answer to a trivia question: What son of a Hall of Fame Coach turned his hero into the father of a coaching legend?
  • • A National Championship basketball squad comprised of diverse players who did not seem to care who started, who scored or who got the credit. All these Warriors were concerned about was winning, which they did in a multitude of ways (and eating on the way home).

I.e., the admission of six-time National Champion and National Junior College Athletic Association All-American Boaz Lalang, a 2008 Beijing Olympian and one-year sensation; NJCAA Cross-Country Medalist Pasca Cheruiyot, a six-time middle-distance National Champ and 10-time All-America in 1 1/2 years (2007-08); former cage standout Darin Lee (1984-86), who by age 54 has amassed 632 coaching wins (and counting) in 30 prep seasons to already rank among the all-time coaching greats, and the 2012-13 Men’s Basketball Team that compiled a 30-3 record, nabbing an impressive Great Rivers Athletic Conference championship and capping it off in grand fashion with RLC’s eighth NJCAA National Championship Team title overall and first-ever in basketball (NJCAA Division II).

Boaz Lalang mugBoaz Lalang  Pasca Cheruiyot mugPasca Cheruiyot  Darin Lee promo shotDarin Lee 

RLC MBB NationalChampsRLC Men's Basketball 2012-13 National Champs

The public is invited to induction festivities at 5:30 p.m. in Waugh Gymnasium. Registration in advance is required through the RLC Athletic Department, (618) 437-5321, Ext. 1250.

With the necessary votes to gain acceptance, the newcomers swell the RLC Sports HOF ranks to 45 individual student-athletes, three former coaches, two Alumni Coaches, three Sports Professionals, a dozen teams representing six different programs and four track relay quartets.

To summarize how the 2019 contingent of newcomers might stand out amongst 69 total HOF plaques hanging in the lobby area con­necting James (Hummer) Waugh Gymnasium and the RLC Aquatics Center: 1) the lone Olympian; 2) the most “decorated” student-athlete in Lady Warrior history; 3) the two aforementioned individuals most responsible for carrying their respective teams to matching NJCAA National Championships on the same day; 4) an “Alumni Coach” who is showing no signs of slowing down and already ranks in the Top 35 of Illinois High School Association boys basketball coaches all-time and No. 12 active, and 5) a group of individuals who spent a season proving the sum is greater than the parts, demonstrating how to win a GRAC crown against all odds and accomplishing things – a record record and national title – no other Warrior roundball team has managed in 62 seasons (the first 10 as Mt. Vernon Community College Warriors).

Coach Brent McLain and his charges captured their only NJCAA Men’s Indoor Track and Field team title in 2008, thanks in large part to Eldoret, Kenya native Lalang. And that is no exaggeration.

The freshman made his debut by winning the 800-Meter Run, 1000M (2:28.88) and Mile (4:05.91). He also anchored the victori­ous Distance Medley Relay Team, following in the footsteps of classmates Ben Cheruiyot, Travis Taylor and Aaron Dixon to stop the clock at 10:04.89.

The winning Warriors also got firsts from Elkanah Kibet in the 5000M Run and Cory Holman in the Pentathlon, plus 13 other individual All-America finishes (top eight) and one other relay runner-up showing. Rend Lake College piled up 133 points, far out-distancing second-place Barton County (KS) with 86 and Butler County (KS) with 66 in Eastern Illinois University’s Lantz Indoor Fieldhouse.

Prior to that, the 18-year-old Lalang had posted the season’s lowest collegiate times – all levels, NCAA included – when he toppled a fieldhouse record that stood for 23 years by winning the 800M Run in 1:47.82 (eighth-best in the world) at the Indoor Indiana University Relays and in the Mile (4:58.34) in the prestigious University of Arkansas Tyson Invitational.

Outdoors, he claimed NJCAA Championships in the 800M (1:46.58) and 1500M.

To put an emphasis on the meaning of student-athlete, Lalang was named NJCAA Track and Field Coaches Association Academic All-America and the Warriors garnered Academic Team of the Year distinction with the fourth-highest composite grade-point average (3.26).

Lalang stayed busy during the “off-season” as well, to put it mildly.

With financial help from college faculty and staff and other supporters in the Southern Illinois community, Lalang returned to Africa that summer and qualified for a berth on his country’s Olympic Team. He won his semifinal heat in early July in Nairobi before finishing second in the finals in 1:45.21 behind former World 800M Indoor Champion Wilfred Bungei 1:45.06. World Champion Alfred Kirwa Yego was third in 1:45.49.

When the RLC Foundation got involved, it became possible for the coach and his wife, Dr. Deedra McLain, to witness the exploits of his world-class runner. Warrior red T-shirts began popping up all over campus proclaiming, “Boaz and Brent: Putting the INA in ChINA.”

Once in Bird’s Nest Stadium, Lalang did Kenya and his extended American family proud as “The McLain Report: From China to Ina” chronicled his exploits online and allowed for blogging support from back “home.”

Lalang qualified as one of 24 semifinalists after preliminaries the previous day reduced an original field of 58. The McLains, meanwhile, spent very little time with RLC’s favorite son, but when they did were able to share well-wishes from many others. They recalled seeing tears in his eyes as he read message after message of support.

“They didn’t send me to Beijing to sight-see. They sent me for that one moment, when Boaz knew that his Rend Lake College family was with him,” commented McLain.

Lalang’s 1:45.87 clocking was the seventh-fastest from three semifinals on August 21, meant to reduce the field to eight for the finals. Unfortunately, he was third in his heat, nipped at the wire by .02-second for the runner-up spot by veteran Canadian Olympia Gary Reed. Two runners were in with slower times because they were automatic qualifiers with their 1-2 showing in a slower semifinal heat. Lalang was first man out, behind third- and fourth-place runners from the fastest heat.

“Boaz Lalang Day” on September 3, 2008 welcomed the returning hero back to his campus home for his sophomore season and many more anticipated National Championships and All-America showings.

However, reality set in by early December, when Lalang agreed to a too-good-to-refuse professional contract offer from Adidas.

By 2010, Lalang was Co-Outstanding Men’s Performer at the Drake Relays, second in the 800M World Indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar in 1:46.39 and won the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India in 1:46.60. His Personal Record 800M Run August 29 of that year pushed fellow countryman David Rudisha to a world record; Lalang was second in 1:42.95 at the Rieti Meeting in Italy.

In 2011, he was runner-up in the All-Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique in 1:46.40.

Boaz later was a volunteer coach for University of Arizona during part of his younger brother’s career, when Lawi Lalang won the NCAA Cross-Country Championship as a freshman, became an eight-time NCAA title-holder overall and 16-time All-American.

Pasca Cheruiyot is the female equivalent to 2016 HOF Inductee Stephen Sambu and a match for her 2019 Hall of Fame Classmate Lalang.

Whereas Sambu earned the most “decorated student-athlete” mantle in RLC history with 10 National Championships – both falls in Cross-Country, three Indoors and four Outdoors individually and one as a relay member on the Track – and 13 All-America distinctions in two full years, Cheruiyot earned hers in Spring 2007 following her second-semester arrival on-campus and the 2007-08 academic year.

Forerunner, literally, Elkanah Kibet gets some of the credit for the recruitment of Cheruiyot. Kibet, a Warrior standout by way of Eldoret, Kenya, was in the process of signing with Auburn University when his future four-year college mentioned RLC to a colleague back in Africa.

Coach Denny Myers discovered a quick-learner in Cheruiyot, despite her decision to forego running competitively her last two years of high school in order to concentrate on her studies . . . in hopes of getting a college athletic grant-in-aid. She impressed in 3000M and 5000M time trials in Kenya before American four-year college coaches.

Within a few months of her arrival in the States, Cheruiyot was a three-time All-American Outdoors, placing second in the NJCAA 10,000M Run and third in the 1500M and 3000M.

Well-adjusted by Fall, she was the Juco Cross-Country National Champion in 16:12.99, 14 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor (almost two minutes faster than her closest teammate) as Rend Lake College hosted the NJCAA Championships for the first time. The Lady War­riors placed ninth, but as a group would become one of 20 Academic All-America Cross-Country Teams, ranking 14th with a 3.20 composite grade-point average.

Not to be outdone by Lalang, she likewise led her Lady Warriors to the 2008 NJCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship in just the second season of existence for Myers’ contingent. Cheruiyot crossed the finish line first in the Mile (4:59.63, by :15), 3000M (9:53.50, by :30) and 5000M (17:29.70, by :30), settling for second in the 1000M (3:00.84, compared to the winning 3:00.40).

Other Lady Warrior firsts were claimed by Jessica Merriweather in the Pentathlon and High Jump, Kim Beardwood in the 800M Run and Karmyn Clark in the Weight Throw. Eight others contributed All-America performances by placing second through eighth for Myers & Friends.

Cheruiyot gathered up two more National titles in her second Outdoor Finals – improving one notch in the 10,000M and winning as well in the 5000M.

She established seven RLC women’s records on the track – Indoors in the Mile, 3000M and 5000M; Outdoors in the 1500M, 3000M, 5000M and 10,000M.

Myers came in for praise from his prized student-athlete in an article in Runner’s World. “He knew how important education and run­ning were to me and provided a lot of support and motivation.” When she signed with Missouri State University, spurning offers from more prestigious track programs, she again praised Myers as “the most caring and encouraging figure in her athletic and academic experience.”

Cheruiyot quickly became Individual Cross-Country Medalist in the Missouri Valley Conference and All-Midwest Regional to qualify for her first National Collegiate Athletic Association Finals. But an urge to compete at a higher level took her finally to Florida State University, where she was one of the top two runners on back-to-back NCAA Cross-Country runner-up teams, finishing 16th individually in ’09 and 17th in ’10, earning All-America acclaim both years.

As a junior she placed fifth Outdoors with a 10K P.R. 33:23.63 in the NCAA Championships, and as a senior Indoors in 2011 she was ninth in the 5K and 15th in the 3K.

Cheruiyot was living in Minnesota, working in home care and still running competitively when she and Myers (who left RLC after three years, 2006-09), coaching at Iowa Central Community College approximately two hours away, reconnected by phone. They became coach again and pro athlete shortly thereafter.

Pasca Jerono Cheruiyot and Myers were married March 21, 2013. (She also has competed as Pasca Cheptanui Myers.)

Her Coach-Husband-Influencer died unexpectedly June 16, 2018 in their hotel room as she prepared to compete. He left behind a coaching legacy which included 10 National team titles and 11 National “Coach of Year” citations with Lansing (MI) C.C. (1979-2000), two more Indoor titles with the Iowa Central Women and five runner-up finishes with ICC men and women.

Cheruiyot-Myers is now a U.S. citizen, recently completed Nursing School and has resumed her road racing career.

It is almost unfathomable to realize Lee could have coached long enough already to rank among the all-time greats in his profession, especially for anyone who followed his playing days closely.

In three varsity seasons, including sixth-man as a sophomore, the Father-Son Lee Duo went 77-15, capped by a 31-4 senior campaign and third-in-the-state Class A conclusion. Future Mr. Basketball Brian Sloan, son of NBA legend Jerry Sloan, was a key underclass contributor.

The Foxes floor general, slowed by pneumonia during pre-season and a broken wrist in practice, ended his final prep season in similar fashion when he injured his ankle in the first minute of an opening win at state against Nokomis, then saw very little action the next day as MHS lost to Flanagan and downed Havana for third. Yet he still scored 825 points, shot over 50 percent from the field all three years and averaged 9.5 ppg, 4.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

The three-sport star also qualified for state in track all four years and was named All-South twice as a quarterback.

Lee accepted an invitation to the Air Force Academy, but by second-semester he was back in Southern Illinois practicing with the RLC Warriors. The next season he was playing for real, joined for the final 18 games by future Hall of Famer (Class of 2015) Michael Ayers.

The Warriors were 18-13 in 1984-85, with their 6-foot-2 point guard averaging 10.1 ppg and 5.7 apg. He started every game, scored in double-figures in 16 and led the team in scoring three times. In a 102-90 victory over Boys Club of St. Louis, he had 24 points and 11 assists in 32 minutes with no turnovers. His two free throws with no time left forced overtime at Mineral Area, where he led with 22 points in a 74-72 win. And he had 19 points (6-8 FG, 7-7 FT) and eight assists as RLC beat rival John A. Logan for the second time, again with zero turnovers.

Lee also served as the elected, non-voting Student Representative on the RLC Board of Trustees for ’84-85.

His sophomore season with the Warriors never measured up to the first, his minutes, statistics and effectiveness nearly cut in half by a bout early with mononucelosis and then endurance. RLC was 17-16.

As good as he was as a player, however, this is about something he does even better from the bench.

Lee never experienced a losing record as a varsity performer for the Foxes, two seasons with the Warriors from 1984-86 and his first 23 seasons as a head coach.

David Lee was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1993 following 447 wins in stops at Carbon­dale, Johnston City, Carmi, McLeansboro-Hamilton County (212-76 from 1975-85) and West Frankfort.

Darin Lee joined him in 2011. Together, they represent the most successful Father-Son combo in IHSA history with 1,079 coaching wins . . . and counting. He was wrapping up a 27-6 season with a young squad around the time he was informed of his induction into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame.

About time, you might say? In our defense, Lee was a first-year Assistant Coach for a 29-6 Warrior team that claimed Great Rivers Ath­letic Conference and NJCAA Division I Region XXIV championships in 1988-89 under his college mentor, Mitch Haskins. That team entered the Ina-based HOF in November 2010.

So, welcome back, Darin Lee, who became the 40th boys basketball coach to attain 600 wins when he did so near the end of the 2017-18 season. His 30 teams over the years have won at a .694 clip.

His incredible coaching resume, which would not include two years helping his father at West Frankfort while he was attending South­ern Illinois University-Carbondale followed by the season assisting Haskins, has been compiled at three stops.

Lee’s teams dominated in the small-school ranks – two seasons,1989-91, at Vienna, 39-15 (.722), and 18 seasons with the Nashville Hornets, 1991-2009, where he boasted teams which frequented rankings near the top of Class A and reached the quarterfinals of five state tournaments, 426-128 (.769).

When he made the switch to the large-school ranks, he did it in a big way. Once-dominate Collinsville, the fourth-winningest prep program in the country at 2,087-869, had won only 24 games the three previous seasons when Lee made the move. The Kahoks went 20-10 in his first season.

Collinsville has slipped to next-to-smallest enrollment status in the Southwestern Conference as other Metro-East rivals have grown. Yet Lee’s Kahoks managed a 23-6 SWC championship campaign in ’11-12 and were 20-13 three years later.

With a young team this past winter and its 27-6 record in a league which featured defending 4A champ Belleville West, which recently repeated its crown, Lee would not be surprised to be the preseason conference favorite in 2019-20. Four of the six setbacks in ’18-19 were by three points or fewer. During his 10-year tenure, 2009-19, CHS is 167-136 (.551).

“I was very fortunate to get the start (coaching) at Vienna,” Lee said. “That college experience playing at Rend Lake College and then coming back one year as an assistant definitely helped me get that first job.”

“I was very fortunate, also, at age 26 to get the job at Nashville, where we had a tremendous run.”

“Rend Lake College has played a big part in my life. If it had not been for Rend Lake, I don’t think I would be where I am today. I truly am flattered by this honor. I’m looking forward to it.”

Sharing the evening with only the second Alumni Coach will be his wife, Gina, a civilian employee with the Department of Defense at Scott Air Force Base; his children, high school sophomore Jackson and seventh-grader Danielle, and a proud father, the “other” Coach Lee. Jackson played the past winter for the Kahoks Jr. Varsity.

Accepting the Collinsville position was not the difficult part; he also has served during his tenure there as the Assistant Athletic Director, then Athletic Director and now Assistant Principal.

Leaving Nashville had to be (the difficult part) considering his unbelievable success there.

Start with the worst-case scenarios. His lowest victory total in 18 seasons was 17-11 in ’95-96. Only two other seasons produced fewer than 20 wins.

The ’06-07 Hornets, led by Northern Iowa signee Lucas O’Rear, were 33-0 before losing to Teutopolis in the IHSA Class A State Tourney quarterfinals, 43-38. The T-Town Wooden Shoes also eliminated 24-10 Nashville in the 2000 quarterfinals, 48-41 in overtime.

In back-to-back seasons, ’97-98 and ’98-99, Lee & Co. posted records of 30-2 and 28-2. The Hornets fell 57-54 to Farmington in the quarterfinals in the first of those. The next year, the team was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Final Regular Season Class A Poll before being upset in its second post-season outing.

Elite Eight heartbreakers also befelled Lee’s quintets in ’96-97 (27-6) in a 57-55 loss to Spring Valley Hall, when a last-second attempt rimmed out, and in ’04-05 (29-5), by eight to Chicago Hales Franciscans, which claimed the state title before having to forfeit all of its wins.

His final season at Nashville in ’08-09 ended at 27-3. And there was a 27-5 record in ’03-04.

Hard to believe the 2012-13 Warrior cagers were 1-2 to start their conference season. Looking back, hard to believe perhaps. But actually not that unusual at the time, considering RLC was the lone NJCAA D-II contender in a league with eight Division I rivals able to entice recruits with room-and-board athletic grants-in-aid not permitted by D-II standards.

Third-year Coach Randy House advised his team at that point, with a 17-point thumping fresh on their minds, to no longer break huddles with all hands in and their chant of choice, “Conference champions!” Forget the fact they were 8-2 overall. “We’re not good enough to talk about being conference champions,” he told them, even though he still believed they very well could be.

By early February, the total number of wins had doubled, the GRAC record had greatly improved to 8-2 and the Warriors were on the road, leading the No. 1 rated D-II team in the country, nonconference foe Danville Area, 39-26 at halftime. Smooth sailing, until the Jaguars went on “a 23-0 run or so to start the second half.”

With his assistant coaches pleading with House to call a timeout, or timeouts more than likely, the head man refused. “Our players had to figure out for themselves what was going wrong,” he reasoned. Danville Area escaped with a 66-62 win.

Let the record show the Warriors benefited greatly from that learning experience. They refused to lose again.

“My philosophy on coaching: You recruit well enough (not to mention getting lucky occasionally), they win in spite of the coach. My role was to make sure they got to the game safely and feed them well on the way home.”

Their simplified pre-tipoff mantra, “Win and go eat,” worked.

Let the record likewise show they won for a myriad of reasons.

While a balanced offense was averaging 80.6 points per game, the RLC defense was capable of holding four NJCAA National Cham­pionship foes (in Danville, by the way) to a composite .368 shooting from the field – Cecil College (MD) in a 98-75 loss; quarterfinal victim South Suburban in overtime, 85-83, when the would-be champs overcame a 22-point deficit; Owens C.C. (OH) in an 80-75 semifinal, and Moraine Valley in the finale, 87-69. It was the first time in D-II’s 28-year history same-state teams played for the title.

Sixteen of RLC’s 33 opponents were held under 70 points, with an average defensive yield of 71.2 ppg. The Warrior “D” held foes to .398 shooting from the field.

Second-Team All-American Cortez Macklin, a 6-3 guard from Louisville, KY who was at RLC because a recruited teammate signed and he wanted to come with him, and National Tourney “Most Valuable Player” Bronson Verhines (Woodlawn) were the only players to average in double-figures at 13.4 and 10.2 points per game, respectively. No problem. Soph Noel Allen (Guttenberg, NJ / North Bergen H.S.) checked in with 9.8 ppg by making 50 percent of his field-goal attempts, followed by Macklin’s Pleasure Ridge Park H.S. teammate Jeril Taylor and Montez Buford (Louisville / Iroquois H.S.) at 9.3 and 8.6, Dawson Verhines (Woodlawn) at 7.8 and Trice Whaley (Jeffersonville, IN) at 5.8, Corey Ayala (Metropolis / Massac County H.S.) at 5.5, 6-7 Montez Williams (East St. Louis) at 5.1 and Stephon Bryant (Louisville / Doss H.S.) at 3.5.

Ten different players led RLC in scoring, headed by Macklin 11 times, 6-5 Allen and 6-7 Bronson Verhines in six games each, Taylor in

four and Buford in three. The only individuals to score 20 or more were Macklin (four games), Allen (twice), Buford (28 vs. Ivy Tech in a 100-86 win) and Dawson Verhines, who had reached double-digits just once before his incredible 26-point explosion (6-8 3FGs) in the 86-78 triumph over John Wood for the Region XXIV Tournament championship.

Rebound-wise, there were “old-man” Verhines at 8.5 (1.9 blocks per game) and Allen at 6.0, with seven others between 2.8-4.0. Sopho­more Verhines had come out of a two-year basketball “retirement” to play one last season with his younger brother, also a sophomore.

They won by overcoming their own turnovers – 26 in a 76-65 verdict over Region Tourney foe Lincoln, thanks to a 42-25 domination on the boards and quality shooting (50% FG / 76% FT); 25 in an early, 76-75 escape at Illinois Central, and 23 in the all-important second win in 10 days over homestanding John Wood, overcome with a 60-point second half and 12-19 marksmanship from behind the 3-point line.

They won with perimeter sniping – 13 treys against John A. Logan in an 87-64 rout and 7-11 from long-distance in a 69-50 win at Southeastern Illinois – and outstanding shooting in general. They hit 50 per cent or better from the field in 11 games, including 32-62 (.516) in the all-important National Championship win over Moraine Valley.

Against the other co-defending GRAC kingpins, Olney Central, in a 93-85 late-season win, the Warriors were 30-54 from the floor (.556) and 28-32 at the charity stripe (.875) to go along with a 39-20 rebounding advantage.

They even gained revenge, somewhat, with a convincing 11 blocked shots in a 76-68 November victory over South Suburban, the team that had eliminated them in their 2011-12 National Tourney debut.

D-II Rend Lake College finished 14-2 in league play – “Conference champions!” – while the best any of the D-I contenders could muster was two teams at 10-6.

With the GRAC crown secured, the Warriors got an omen of things to come when they claimed non-conference road wins at Lincoln College, 100-79 in its second consecutive game with six in double-figures, and John Wood, 72-69.

Next up: Tournament time, featuring three of the top five D-II teams in Region XXIV, in the opinion of House.

The Lincoln Lynx became Victim No. 1 in a much lower-scoring contest than 11 days before, 76-65. But instead of facing Danville Area, hoping to avenge the embarrassing mid-season loss, the Warriors had to repeat the recent win over host John Wood, which they would, 86-78, behind the red-hot Dawson Verhines and 60 points in the final 20 minutes after trailing at halftime, 27-26.

RLC led John Wood by two points with 4:05 left before responding with a 9-2 run. Seven of the final eight Warrior fielders came from beyond the arc. Taylor shared the limelight with 17 of his 19 points after intermission.

First-round National Tournament opponent Cecil College was the best-shooting 3-point team in the country at 54.4 percent coming in, yet they were no match for the Warriors. The Bronson-version of Verhines contributed 18 points and 15 rebounds, with a decided 61-35 control of the boards and 41 bench points also making a big difference.

The quarterfinal rematch with upstate South Suburban was a doozy. The early-season win was sweet, but the Warriors really needed this one, too, for the sweetest revenge.

Instead, the team from the South Holland suburbs of Chicago – with a student population around 17,000 – seemed destined to elimi­nate the Warriors for the second year in a row at Nationals. The Bulldogs stretched a 37-24 halftime bulge to 22 points before the Rend Lakers decided they had had enough.

The Warriors tied it very late at 75, rebounded South Suburban’s final attempt to win in regulation and Dawson Verhines’ desperation heave “rattles in and out.”

When overtime was winding down with the score once again tied, ”everybody knew who would be taking the last shot.” The athletic Taylor was fouled on his drive to the bucket, returned to the court following a timeout and calmly dropped in two free throws for his team-high 18th and 19th points. Movin’ on.

Trailing by nine after 6:50 and 35-32 at halftime was no big deal against Owens C.C. in the semifinals. RLC dominated inside, scoring 50 of its 80 points in the paint. The winners clinched a finals berth by making 11-of-12 free throws in the last 4:00. Taylor and B. Verhines tal­lied 19 and 17, respectively, with 5-7 Whaley adding 12. B. Verhines and Allen each grabbed nine rebounds.

If a National Championship game, especially a first appearance for any team, could ever be considered anticlimactic, this one might qualify.

In contrast to the games that brought them to the pinnacle, RLC bolted to 19-3 and 27-5 leads, thanks to 12 points from Macklin in the first 9:00. In a 48-26 first half, the Warriors were 18-of-31 (.581) from the floor, including 6-11 (.545) on threes; shell-shocked Moraine Valley was 8-34 (.235) and 3-18 (.167).

Taylor had 15 points. MVP Verhines boasted 13 points and 14 rebounds, but give him credit, also, for clamping down on the Cyclones’ leading scorer. Karrington Ward scored five points in the first 34 minutes and 11 in all, 10.3 below his average. Allen had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and Buford, who opened the tourney with 15 versus Cecil, had nine in the finale. D. Verhines had a game-best eight assists, six boards and five points. Ayala had five points and four assists.

Macklin and Bronson Verhines were All-Region XXIV, and the National Champion Warriors staked claim to more than their share of post-tourney accolades – Bronson Verhines, MVP; Taylor and Macklin, All-Tournament Team (12 members); Dawson Verhines, Pohlman Sportsmanship Award, and House, Coach of the Tournament.

“Unbelievable chemistry. Great kids who played for each other. The most unselfish kids I ever coached,” House explained the secret to their success.

“They were great kids . . . I may have had teams with more talent, but they were as close-knit as any group I ever had (in seven seasons).”

He cited the experience factor, also. Third-year sophomore Allen, outfielder-turned-fulltime cager Dawson Verhines and redshirt fresh­man Ayala, plus Dennis Froemling and Jesse Smith (both from Campbell Hill / Trico H.S.), were exposed to the National Tournament the previ­ous season. “And Bronson, who was 39 or 40 when he played here,” deadpanned House. “Those were mature kids. That was another big difference in us winning it all.”

Also contributing were two freshmen who saw action in half of RLC’s games – 6-5 Antoine Buchanon (Middleton, WI), who averaged 2.9 ppg and 2.8 rpg, and 6-4 Alonzo Singletary (Chicago).

“It was quite an accomplishment by those kids, for sure. Their camaraderie . . . the cohesiveness . . . the way they got along on the floor . . . it was special,” House said.

Bronson Verhines (3.96 GPA), Froemling (3.95) and Smith (3.89) earned NJCAA Academic All-America status for Superior Academic Achievement.

Taylor, Macklin, Whaley, and Montez x 2 (Buford and Williams) all returned as sophomores for a 21-11 Warrior contingent that tied for third in the GRAC at 10-6.

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