Generals’ Connell highlights Area Coach of the Year awards
BY KEVIN HARRIS
CLARKSVILLE — Midway through the 2010-11 season, the Clarksville boys’ basketball team was in a state of uncertainty.
On Dec. 29, 2010, the Generals’ head coach at the time, Greg Duke, unexpectedly resigned six games into his first season at CHS to take a job in Evansville.
Following Duke’s resignation, then-Clarksville junior varsity coach Jeff Byrne took over the reins of the program, while the CHS administration looked for a new head coach.
At the same time, the players were competing in a program that lacked a leader who could provide a solid foundation.
Enter Jason Connell.
The former Charlestown assistant boys’ basketball coach stepped in and gave the Clarksville players some direction.
“In my first meeting with them, I could tell in their eyes that they wanted to win,” Connell said. “They had to buy into me and my system. They wanted to do anything to win.”
Ever since that meeting, the Generals have done nothing but persevere.
After Connell guided Clarksville to a 10-12 overall record and a runner-up finish in the Class 2A Eastern Sectional to conclude the 2010-11 campaign, he led the Generals to their best season in more than 30 years in 2011-12.
This past season, Clarksville went 18-3, clinched a share of the Mid-Southern Conference championship with Brownstown and Silver Creek and finished the regular season ranked ninth in The Associated Press Class 2A poll.
The Generals’ turnaround is the main reason the News and Tribune has named Connell the 2011-12 Area Coach of the Year for boys’ basketball.
“It’s humbling,” Connell said about earning the award. “It’s a testimony to how hard the kids have worked. It’s a great honor for my coaching staff and myself. But it goes back to how hard the kids worked and their accomplishments this past year.”
This year’s version of the Generals joined some elite company within the walls of Clarksville High School.
The Generals’ 18 victories are the most since the 1978-79 Clarksville squad, which went 18-5. The Generals’ MSC crown was the first since Clarksville’s 1977-78 squad, which was 21-3, captured the conference title. The ‘77-78 and ‘78-79 teams won back-to-back sectional championships and were led by the program’s only Indiana All-Star, Chuck Franz.
Another accomplishment for Clarksville this season is it won the Silver Creek Holiday Tournament for the first time since 2000.
Of all the Generals’ achievements in 2011-12, Connell said winning the MSC title was at the top of the list.
“Winning conference is a complete body of work. It’s the biggest accomplishment,” Connell said.
Clarksville’s unbelievable 2011-12 season came as a shock to basketball fans across Southern Indiana.
But Connell said the Generals were not focused on surprising people this season. All they wanted to do was get better and try to win some games.
“I don’t think anybody expected that,” Connell said about his team’s 18-3 season. “I just expected the kids to work hard and do the little things to win. If you do that, the wins will come. We got on a roll.”
Clarksville loses five seniors from its 2011-12 squad. But the Generals will have several key players back, including junior forward Aidan McEwen.
“My goal is to get to where other respectable programs are at like Brownstown,” Connell said. “We want to reload every year. We want to win.”
OTHER WINTER SPORTS AREA COACHES OF THE YEAR
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL — BORDEN’S TERRY RADEMACHER
Rademacher led the 18-7 Braves to their second consecutive Class A Borden Sectional title and their first Southern Athletic Conference championship in 10 years.
During the sectional, Borden held its three opponents — Christian Academy of Indiana, Rock Creek Community Academy and New Washington — to an average of 22.3 points per game.
In the Class A West Washington Regional, the Braves pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season. They handed Class A No. 2 Barr-Reeve its first loss of the year in the regional semifinal, prevailing 29-28.
Rademacher devised a box-and-one defense for his players in the win, as his daughter Allison drew the man-to-man assignment on the Vikings’ leading scorer, Tya Harmon.
“It’s a direct reflection of the accomplishments of the players,” the veteran Borden coach said about being the area’s top girls’ coach. “We’re always happy to win. Winning grabs people’s attention.”
Rademacher also was named the SAC Coach of the Year this past season.
BOYS’ SWIMMING — JEFFERSONVILLE’S KEITH GAST
The veteran Red Devil swimming coach had another successful season on the boys’ side.
Gast guided Jeff to its third consecutive Hoosier Hills Conference championship. The Red Devils won nine of the 12 events and registered a meet-record 524 points.
Jeff followed up its HHC crown with its second Floyd Central Sectional title in a row, registering 536 points. The Red Devils won nine events during the sectional.
At the IHSAA State Finals, Gast led his squad to a seventh-place finish, which was the Red Devils’ highest placing in the meet in Gast’s Jeff tenure.
At state, Red Devil senior Zach Blankenbeker placed second in the 500-yard freestyle and fourth in the 200 freestyle. Jeff sophomore T Martin was fourth in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, and the Red Devils’ 400 and 200 freestyle relay squads placed sixth and eighth, respectively.
“Since I’ve been here, our highest finish at state was 13th and we ended up seventh this year,” Gast said. “It was a model team this season. When you have great swimmers and great kids, it makes it easy to go to work.”
Gast is honored to be named the News and Tribune’s Area Coach of the Year for boys’ swimming.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “I’m a coach and we coach for the kids. It’s nice to get the recognition.”
GIRLS’ SWIMMING — FLOYD CENTRAL’S JOE PERKINS
Perkins guided the Highlander girls’ swimming team to another stellar campaign.
Floyd Central won its fifth HHC championship in six years, scoring 429 points. During the meet, the Highlanders’ 200 medley relay team broke a 7-year-old conference record and the Floyd 400 freestyle relay squad snapped a 2-year-old school record.
The Highlanders carried over their momentum from the HHC title a few weeks later by winning the Floyd Central Sectional for the fifth straight time. The Highlanders scored 394 1/2 points, winning four events.
Floyd Central senior Haley Dresner qualified for the state finals in the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, while teammate Meg Taylor competed in the 500 freestyle at state. The Highlander 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams also earned trips to state.
“Each team is different and special in its own way,” Perkins said. “As the coach of Floyd Central, we set a high emphasis every year on being the best we can be. We have been very fortunate over the past several years to have a high level of success on the local level, winning girls’ Hoosier Hills Championships and IHSAA sectional championships.
“This group has laid a solid foundation for continued success in the future, which makes me very proud. We know at the end of the season what we can do as a team in the future.”
Perkins thanked the News and Tribune for naming him the Area Coach of the Year for girls’ swimming.
“It’s an honor to be named the News and Tribune’s girls’ swimming coach of the year,” Perkins said. “It is a reflection of what our girls’ swimming and diving team accomplished during the season.”
WRESTLING — JEFF’S DANNY STRUCK
Under Struck’s guidance, the Red Devils won the HHC championship and the Jeff Sectional crown along with getting two wrestlers to the IHSAA State Finals.
The Devils scored 240 1/2 points in winning the HHC title, as four Jeff grapplers claimed conference championships.
Jeff won its fourth sectional in a row, scoring 265 points. The Red Devils had six sectional champions and 13 regional qualifiers.
At the state finals, Jeff senior Alonzo Shepherd finished sixth in the 120-pound weight class, while fellow Red Devil senior Elijah Curtley wound up seventh at 195 pounds.
“Our kids really showed what they are made of,” Struck said about the 2011-12 season. “At the end of 2011, the question I got most often when we graduated eight starters that year was, ‘Aren’t you worried about next year?’ and I knew that we had plenty of kids that wanted to make varsity and prove our depth.
“We were seeded third at HHC and won it and second at sectional and won it. Our kids were never picked to win anything, but wanted to win bad enough they found ways to win. They did it together as a team, a family, and that made it very special.”
Struck said winning Area Coach of the Year for wrestling is very special.
“My kids have earned me a few awards regionally and nationally,” Struck said. “But this means that our own community is taking note of what our program does for kids and that is special. I didn’t wrestle any matches this year, so it is a great award for the kids of the Jeffersonville wrestling community.”
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