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INA, Ill. – The Rend Lake College Warriors rode a three-game win streak into the end of 2012 and came out in 2013 ranked eighth among DII junior colleges in the country by the National Junior College Athletic Association. This month, Rend Lake is 3-1 against tough DI opponents in the always challenging Great Rivers Athletic Conference. Overall, the Warriors are sitting at 11-2 and 4-2 in the GRAC.
“Those things sometimes don’t mean a whole lot. It’s just a number on a piece of paper,” Rend Lake Head Coach Randy House said of the ranking. “It’s a good honor for the kids. ... It’s a great honor for Rend Lake College and us to be ranked where we are.
House expressed concern that his players might feel added pressure to back up that ranking. Overall, he is confident they will keep playing with focus on Rend Lake returning to the national championship tournament in March.
“Our kids are very athletic,” said House. “We don’t always, as coaches, make the best decisions. But that’s just part of being a coach.” He was referring to the coaching staff’s decision to stall when up by double digits Wednesday night against Olney Central. It backfired as the Warriors lost rhythm and the Knights mounted a comeback. Eventually, Rend Lake rallied to take the game by a dozen points.
Noel Allen led the team with 19 that night. One of only four sophomores on the team who made a historic run to nationals last season, Allen talked after the game about the difference added depth has meant for the team and his role this year. One example of that depth came against Olney. The starters came out sluggish so House put in a whole new team that took control of the game and got RLC the lead.
“Almost the whole team can score,” Allen said. “I mean, anybody, at any given time, could get 25 on our team. This year I can take my time a little more. I don’t have to struggle or force shots up. Our opponents, sometimes they are bigger or stronger, but I feel good ... like I can play against anybody.”
The 6-5, 220-pound forward from New Jersey said he has taken a leadership role on the team again this year.
“I just try to lead by example and work as hard as I can.”
Corey Ayala, a red-shirt freshman from Metropolis, had to watch from the stands last year as Rend Lake made school history by qualifying for the national tournament. Ayala worked hard to be ready to get back on the court this season.
“We have a lot of players. A lot of freshmen. So I think it took awhile for the team to click but we are going good now,” said Ayala. The 6-1 guard had eight points and went four-of-four from the free-throw line in the win over Olney.
RLC lost its Jan. 7 game with Southwestern Illinois College by 17 (79-62). It beat Southeastern Illinois 69-50 on Jan. 9, Kaskaskia 80-74 on Jan. 12, and Olney 78-66. Next up is a road game at Wabash Valley College at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 19.
Wabash Valley is expected to still be without head coach Dan Sparks, who was injured at his home in November. Reports stated he fell from a ladder and later underwent hip surgery. The WVC Warriors have lost their last five straight and are 1-4 in the conference.
“[Sparks] is out so they are in a little different scenario,” said House. “And they’ve had a couple of kids hurt for a while who I think will be back against us. That could be good or bad.”
House said whatever Wabash’s situation is, there is no way the Warriors are looking past the perennial powerhouse in the league.
“We’re the only division two in a division one conference. If we look by anybody we are just kidding ourselves.”
RLC hosts John A. Logan at 7:30 p.m. on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday. The rivalry is shaping up to be fierce this year. JALC is 5-1 in the GRAC and has won its last four straight, most recently an 87-81 overtime win over Wabash Valley.
“Logan is Logan,” House said. “Everybody at Rend Lake likes to beat Logan.”
House hasn’t beat the Vols in their four meetings since he took over as coach at RLC. Three of those losses are by a combined four points – two one-point losses and a two-point loss, he said.
“It’s going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be the same old game. We are going to have to come out and work our butts off.”
For all things athletic at The Lake, visit RLC online at www.rlc.edu/warriors.