Future looks bright for Vikings
BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
DANVILLE — Cautiously optimistic is how Danville coach Ted Houpt handled his first four seasons directing his Alma mater's boys basketball team.
During that time, the Vikings had four straight losing seasons, going a disappointing 35-73 overall.
But each time Houpt got an opportunity to talk about his squad, he would always make a point of being positive, seemingly knowing that better days for his program were coming.
Before the 2016-17 season started, Houpt said "we are looking to make another jump this season,'' referring to how Danville had gone from a 6-21 season to a 13-14 record in the 2015-16 campaign.
His players, in particular Kendle Moore, believed that the Vikings were going to enjoy their first 20-win season in 16 years.
At that time, it seemed like they were biting off a little more than they could chew.
Houpt and the 2016-17 Danville Vikings not only made another jump, they absolutely flew up the mountain with a 22-9 record, the first regional title since 2000-01 season, and the school's first Sweet 16 finish since 1994.
"For the whole season, no, this is way more than I expected,'' said Houpt after Danville lost to Edwardsville 81-59 in the IHSA Class 4A Ottawa Sectional championship game. "This was legitimately a good year for us. I couldn't be happier. You know it's going to end at some point, because you are probably not going to win the state title. So, the season is going to end with a loss and that never feels good.
"But, we have a good account of ourselves. There is a lot to be excited about for this year.''
Other major accomplishments for Danville during the season:
The Vikings opened the year going 4-1 and sharing the Lincoln/Eaton Round Robin Thanksgiving Tournament.
Danville took fourth at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, including a 71-55 win over then No. 1-rated Chicago Curie.
The team rode an eight-game win streak from Jan. 7 until Feb. 11.
In the Big 12 Conference, the Vikings went 6-4, tying for fourth behind Bloomington, Normal West and Normal Community but they went 4-0 against Peoria schools.
All-in-all, a very successful season, but the best part for Viking fans?
Not a single member of the team was a senior. All 13 players, if they want to and they make the team, could be back for Danville next season.
"The bonus is that we have everyone coming back,'' said Houpt.
It's even something that media covering the top-rated Edwardsville Tigers took note of on Friday night.
Greg Shashack of the Alton Telegraph basically asked Houpt if he thought it Edwardsville's time now and that Danville's time could be a year from now.
"That many seniors, we will have that next year, but you never know,'' Houpt answered. "There are so many good teams in 4A, but you would like to think that this is a great kickstart for next year.''
Edwardsville also gave Danville a blueprint for how to be a successful team in the postseason tournament.
"They came out strong, confident and poised,'' Houpt said. "They had the swagger of someone that has been there, knows what they are doing and where they are going.
"This year, I think we rode our energy, hustle and grit. When you combine that with a little seasoning, it could be another fun year.''
Moore also took a few notes from Edwardsville star guard Mark Smith, who had a career-best 45 points to go with 14 rebounds and six assists in the victory for the Tigers.
"It would be nice to play like he did and play at a high level in a game like this,'' Moore said. "I'm going to work hard to get myself there.
"We want to be right back here next year, and hopefully, we can get out with a win.''
Houpt hopes that his team enjoys what they have accomplished, but just like he's done his four previous seasons, he also knows there is work to be done if the Vikings are going to keep making progress.
"I think we have to get a little better shooting,'' he said. "We need to get on the gun and get a lot of shots up during the offseason and during the summer. We were a better shooting team, but we can still get better.''
The coach, included himself, in needing some improvement.
"I can do a little better job of coaching offensively, he said. "I kind of bounced around a little bit in the last game or two. I can do some work there to clean up some things.
"It's kind of fun to be planning and watching games knowing that the same team will be back.''