Junior Aces boys basketball coach Matt Lies was blunt with his eighth grade players.
“This team should have lofty goals for the high school,” said Lies at Monday’s season-ending awards program on Monday at the MCMS Cafetorium.
Why shouldn’t he expect big things for this group at the Hilltop? After all, they provided Lies with one of his biggest coaching victories, by his own admission, in a career full of them.
The Aces knocked off powerhouse Cairo during their 16-6 season. “They proved that they can compete with some of the best teams in the southern part of the state,” said Leis of his Aces after the win over the Pilots, who finished second in the SIJHSAA Class M state tournament.
The eighth graders started off the season at 10-1, and after a mid-season lull, finished strong, advancing to the Class L Regional finals in Carmi.
Lies also took a minute to reflect on some of his previous athletes who played for the MCHS Golden Aces in the IHSA Class 2A Sectional tournament in West Frankfort on Tuesday night. “A lot of those kids played for us,” Leis reminded this year’s team, hopeful that they, too, will soon experience similar success at the Hilltop.
“I want these kids to get up there and feel that kind of atmosphere,” Lies said.
Daxton Peach won the top award, the Most Valuable Player, but also took an award for best free throw shooter, at 68 percent. Trent VanMatre was selected as the Mental Attitude award winner. Trevor Kennard won the Hustle Award. The best offensive player award went to Justin Carpenter, and Elijah Hadra was named the top defensive player.
Each player on the 15-4 seventh grade team received an award as well.
Lies also presented academic awards, praising both his teams for a cumulative GPA over 3.0. Two seventh graders chosen had GPA’s of 4.0, Dawson Brown and Brayden Stipp. The two eighth graders chosen also had a 4.0 GPA, Ryan Webb and Peach.
The Scholastic Awards may soon bear a new name, if Lies has his preference. He wants to name the awards for Tim Wachs, who continues to offer the school countless hours of work in athletics and academics even in retirement. “I really appreciate what he does for the kids,” Lies said.
Lies also honored Matt McCarty for his work as an assistant coach. McCarty is heading back to school in the fall.