EAST PEORIA - With a well-deserved reputation to uphold, representatives of the Southern Illinois Collegiate Common Market did quite well in the 11th annual "College Bowl" state finals, thank you.
While regular-season SICCM champion Kaskaskia College was improving one notch to claim its first-ever statechampionship, third-place Rend Lake College was finishing in the top four for the fourth time in the last five years and sixth overall in an event sponsored by the Illinois Community College Trustees Association and the Illinois Community College Student Activities Association.
Rend Lake College established the reputation by winning the inaugural statewide "Academic Olympics" in 1993. That was quickly followed by state titles for Southeastern Illinois College in 1995 and John A. Logan College in 1997 and ’98.
Kaskaskia’s unbeaten march through this year’s finals snapped a four-year Southern Illinois drought, during which time Joliet Junior College became a three-time state champion and Morton edged Kaskaskia for honors last spring, only because RLC upset K.C. in the day’s final match.
In between the first crown for Rend Lake College and the latest 1-3 showing by the conference, Rend Lake College finished third in 1996, fourth in ’99, second in 2000 and fourth a year ago. Kaskaskia was runner-up in 1998 as well as last year, and Logan tied for second in 1994.
Champions from six regions across the staff advance to the finals, hosted for ther first time this spring by Illinois Central College. Rend Lake College, coached by Mike Mullen, went undefeated in both the fall and spring tournaments to advance from the South-East Region over league rivals Logan, Southeastern Illinois and Shawnee. Kaskaskia is assigned to the South-West Region.
Mullen’s squad finished 16-5 for the combined fall/spring campaign, with two of the losses coming in the state finals and three of the setbacks directly attributed to State Champion Kaskaskia.
Kaskaskia made it 3-0 against RLC this season by winning the opening match in the "College Bowl" state finals. The Rend Lakers bounced back, however, to dipose of McHenry County College (Crystal Lake), host Illinois Central and Elgin.
That set up a showdown for second with Joliet in the finale of the round-robin format. Only 10 points separated the two teams at intermission, but it was all Joliet in the second half. The match was similar to the opener with K.C.
McLeansboro Sophomore Alan Phelps, an all-stater last season, personally accounted for 110 RLC toss-up points (five more than last April) but finished sixth overall. All-State status was earned by Kaskaskia standout Charlie Bryant (Salem), top scorer with 230 toss-up points; and teammate Dale Hill, third with 190 points; they were joined by Joliet’s Michael Hainzinger (210) and John Evans (140) and Brandon Buchner of Illinois Central (170).
Other contributors for Mullen and Assistant Coach Robin Yucus were sophomoresJosh Perschbacher (Herrin) and Nathan Shelton (Enfield / Norris City-Omaha-Enfield High School), both of whom were responsible for 80 total points on 10-point toss-up questions, sophomore Jennifer Martinek (Mt. Vernon) and freshman Sam Grimes (Iuka). Shelton and Martinek were both members of the team that placed fourth at state a year ago.
"I am very, very pleased with this team and the fact they were able to finish third in the state," said Mullen, "especially considering how they lost to Kaskaskia for the third time this season in the first round and et came back to win three tough matches in a row. Then we gave a good Joliet team a tough match for a half and almost finished second."
Mullen appreciated the balance of his team, with Phelps at the forefront on toss-up questions. "When it came to bonus points, everybody had their specialty. Everybody contributed. It was a good team effort all year," Mullen added.
Rend Lake College was 7-3 in SICCM competition, 6-0 in the two South-East Region qualifiers and 3-2 at state.