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In the four games Pana senior Charley Lett played in at the State Farm Holiday Classic coming off a torn ACL, two things were evident.

First, even though Pana went a disappointing 2-2 at the tournament, there’s no question the Panthers are better with her on the floor. The offense runs smoother and her presence creates more open looks for every-one else.

Second, it’s going to take a while for Lett to become the player she was. In Pana’s second-round loss to Annawan, Lett let the game come to her and took good shots in rhythm. They just didn’t fall.

Pana senior Allie Schoonover tore her ACL last season and took three weeks longer to come back than Lett. She said even with the extra time it took several weeks to play her way back into form.

“Charley is three months out of surgery — you can’t expect her to be doing the things she could do before already,” Schoonover said. “Just give her some time — she’ll be the old Charley.”

Schoonover said even as Lett is working her way back into shape, she’s still finding ways to contribute.

“Her passing is huge for us,” Schoonover said. “She’s able to control the ball and really sees the floor when she’s in there, even if she’s not at 100 percent yet. We need her in there.”

Fab 5 at Warrensburg?

Warrensburg-Latham’s freshman class is getting plenty of on-the-job experience this season. Two fresh-men — Weston Nottelmann and Garrett Shea — start for Vic Binkley’s Cardinals, while Tyler Bond and Austin Harden get good minutes off the bench.

So with those players contributing already, a “Fab 4” idea had been batted around Warrensburg. The only thing is, that might have to be amended to give the Cardinals a “Fab 5” after big man A.J. Duff came off the bench last week against a veteran Petersburg PORTA team and showed good moves in the post to sink all four of his shot attempts.

Those eight points were only part of the haul for the Warrensburg freshmen against PORTA. Shea led the way with a team-high 18 points, and Warrensburg’s first-year players accounted for 43 of the 57 points the Cardinals scored against the Bluejays.

“They’re going to be a dynamite team here the next couple of years,” PORTA coach Nick Rathgeb said.

Better than expected start

St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan knew he had the pieces in place for a good season, with sophomore stand-out Christian Williams back and Ross Anderson ready to take on a bigger role.

What he didn’t expect was for his team to be undefeated heading into the championship game of its own holiday tournament. The Bulldogs ultimately lost to Riverton in the title game, but a 10-1 mark heading into the New Year was more than Noonan counted on but made possible by juniors — and new varsity players — Madison Velchek, George Duncan and Kurtis Minton.

“Whether we’d be 10-1 at this point, I really didn’t think that,” he said. “I thought it was going to be pretty rough until Christmas. We’re a little bit farther ahead than where I thought we would be, but that doesn’t mean much if we don’t continue to get better. Some of our juniors are doing a good job of making the ad-justment to the varsity level.”

Big step for Altamont

The Indians entered the Vandalia Holiday Tournament as the No. 7 seed and a Class 1A school with four straight games against 2A teams in pool play. Altamont faced a fifth 2A team on Saturday and beat top-seeded Flora for third place — falling shy of playing for the title because of a 37-34 loss to Vandalia.

Along the way, the Indians might have proved themselves as the class of the National Trail Conference. Three other NTC teams were in the tournament field and went a combined 4-11. And Altamont picked up a pool play win against Effingham St. Anthony — the Indians’ first against the Bulldogs since the mid-90s.

Garrett Ziegler has led the way for Altamont (11-2) all season, and that didn’t change in the tournament as he averaged 16 points. That included just three points in the loss to Vandalia but also 29 in the win against St. Anthony.

Howling Wolves

It’s alarming for a Flora team that won nine of its first 10 games to hit a wall at the Vandalia Holiday Tournament, losing its last two games and ending up fourth.

The key for opponents was slowing down the Wolves’ Ethan Leib inside. Leib is 6-foot-2, but he’s strong and has a nice touch around the basket. Greenville couldn’t stop him, but Pana held Leib to 3-of-10 from the field and Altamont limited him to 3-of-7.

Focusing a defense on stopping Leib may have worked at Vandalia, but it may not be a blueprint for beat-ing the Wolves (9-3) all season. Leib works well with 6-6 Blake Shehorn — they’re interchangeable in the high-low game — and Bryce Pearce and Christian Taylor give Flora two options beyond the 3-point line.

“We’re not where we need to be, but the Vandalia Tournament gets us ready for the postseason,” Flora coach Phil Leib said.

With that balance on offense and a tough man-to-man defense, Flora is the type of team that could pull an upset or two in the postseason.

Knock-down, drag-out

The finals at the Vandalia Tournament featured one of the area’s more underrated rivalries — Pana vs. Vandalia.

Pana won 56-44, but it wasn’t pretty.

“It was competitive for sure,” Pana coach Gary Bowker said. “A lot of the kids are actually friends. There were no cheap shots or animosity, but if one of the guys has a chance to knock the other down, they will.”

Taking steps

In its first year with Ryan Brown as its coach, Mount Zion (7-7) already has its most wins since 2008.

“There’s a good feel in the locker room right now,” Brown said. “The guys like playing with each other and they’re playing with good confidence. I’m not going to say we’re a great team, but we’ve put ourselves in the category of dangerous.”

Brown said he likes the direction the team is headed, but remains frustrated with one aspect in particular — defense.

“I like our offense, I like our tempo and I like the energy we play with,” Brown said. “But we have to im-prove on defense. We have to get better right now. If we’re going to contend for the conference, we have to come out and get a road win at Salem. To do that, we’re going to have to play defense.”

Lions roaring

LSA finished off a third-place finish at the BSN Classic with a 63-58 win against Watseka.

The Lions went 4-1 at the tournament, with their only loss to eventual champion Salt Fork — ranked No. 6 in Class 1A.

Jeremy Pezelle, who had 27 points in the third-place game, was named to the all-tournament team along with the Lions’ Hunter York, who had four double-doubles in five games during the tournament.

Outstanding performances

It’s not that Casey-Westfield’s Brandon Wolfe was an unknown before the Pizza Hut Wabash Classic, but he led his team to a couple of wins at the Terre Haute, Ind. Tournament with two big games — 31 points against West Vigo, Ind., then 37 against Linton-Stockton, Ind., including seven 3-pointers.

On the girls side, Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City’s Micah Jones took steps toward her second straight H&R All-Area Player of the Year Award by dominating the Dieterich Holiday Tournament. She had 44 points in a win against South Central, 36 vs. Arcola and 27 points and 17 rebounds in the Hornets’ championship game win against Newton.

Launching party

Finally healthy, the Argenta-Oreana wrestling team showed off its depth at the Bomber Classic last week-end.

The Bombers had 11 wrestlers place in the top five (out of 14 weight classes). No other team had more than seven in the top five. Argenta won the tournament, which also featured top programs from Quincy Notre Dame, Monticello, Erie and Mount Vernon, won with 206 points.

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