TAYLORVILLE -- For the Taylorville boys basketball team, there's no place like home.
As in literally no other place but home.
The Tornadoes started their 2018-19 season with 13 of their first 14 games at the friendly confines of Dolph Stanley Court in Taylorville.
That's an unusual schedule for a high school team but they made the most of it by starting 13-1 and capturing their own Taylorville Holiday Tournament in the process.
“We thought we would have a pretty good start to our season with so many games at home so we were crossing our fingers to get out to a good start. But this good a start? 13-1 is hard to do for any team,” Taylorville coach Ryan Brown said.
Brown has seen steady improvement in his four seasons coaching the Tornadoes. A 14-16 record in 2015-16 improved to 16-15 in 2016-17. Last season saw a jump to 20-10, which was a clear precursor for the hot start this season.
The Taylorville roster features a group of nine seniors and Brown has been visualizing their potential for a while.
“I have been looking forward to this group of players’ senior year for a few years now. They were just missing that dynamic point guard at the right time,” Brown said. “We had Jordan Moats last season and it just seemed like the guys weren’t physically ready for that whereas now we have another dynamic point guard in Jase Bergschneider and now we are physically ready to compete and play hard-nose defense and run for 32 minutes.”
Moats was one of 10 Taylorville players to score more than 1,000 points in their career and his absence after graduating and joining the Millikin men’s basketball team could have been a concern for the team. But Bergschneider, a junior, has expanded his game and been averaging 19.9 points a night.
“The timing was right. We graduate Jordan and we have a missing piece and (Jase) steps right in and surpassed everybody’s expectations,” Brown said. “I knew he could score but I didn’t expect him to score in this capacity, so that has been a pleasant surprise.”
Bergschneider said he appreciates the level of experience the Tornadoes (14-2) have and they will need it as the next 10 of 11 games will be on the road.
“It’s great to have that type of leadership and you really don’t see that on most teams, nine seniors who have stuck with it,” he said. “A lot of the guys have been playing together since second grade and there is a ton of leadership. Coach Brown really doesn’t have to tell us someone has to step up. There are constantly guys stepping up and everyone is very vocal and if you mess up, someone will let you know.”
Seniors Nick Livingston and brother Jack Livingston give a one-two punch behind Bergschneider, averaging 13.5 and 11 points per game, respectively.
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Nick’s outside game is improved by Bergschneider’s aggressive play.
“I like to drive the ball a lot and when I do that everything sort of collapses on me and he is a great guy to kick it out to," Bergschneider said. “A lot of Nick’s points also come from his defense being at the top of the zone and getting deflections.”
Picking up those key turnovers was a focus of Livingston’s offseason preparation.
“I guess you could say last year my biggest problem on defense was that I hadn’t bought into the system,” Nick said. “Over the summer I stopped making excuses and started playing man-to-man defense and I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
Another Tornadoes senior more than pulling his weight is Will Kettelkamp, who at 6-4 is the team’s tallest player. He is tasked with blocking opposing teams’ big man, including Sterling’s 6-10 Aidan Shore in the Taylorville Holiday Tournament.
“He’s been guarding these big guys and having to battle those guys night in, night out,” Brown said. “He is our unsung hero on the team and maybe he doesn’t rack up big stats but he has started each game for us this year. Without Will I don’t know who would guard those people.”
Kettelkamp makes up for the height differential with some intense play.
“I enjoy that role and I embrace it and do my best against those guys who are bigger than me and try to play harder than them,” he said. “We’re a little undersized against what we go against sometimes so it is a new challenge every game.”
Another factor that brought the all ready close-knit team even closer was the tornado that came through Taylorville on Dec. 1, damaging more than 100 buildings. Brown’s team was out helping with the clean up before he got in touch with them.
“This group has been really close before and so it wasn’t a problem to get something together and organize something. Before coach even texted us we had guys out together already cleaning up and helping,” Bergschneider said.
The off-court experience has been as important as anything on the court.
“After something like that you see guys in a different light. It was kids jumping in and let’s get this house done and then we are going to move to the next house and then the next,” Brown said. “We were fortunate that we didn’t have any players directly affected in their own house but I think there has been a different level of team chemistry and it was maybe because of the things we have done outside of the gym. I think it helped the maturation process with these guys. Seeing how close they were to a life changing event.”