There are plenty of people saying Yorkville Christian can’t be beat in Class 1A.
But there is one person reminding the Mustangs each day in practice of just how a team can beat them: Yorkville Christian coach Aaron Sovern.
“Every day in practice I play the opposing coach and what I would do to beat us,” said Sovern. “We remind them daily, especially at this point because one slip up and it’s over.”
But can anyone in Class 1A beat Yorkville Christian?
The scores are almost embarrassing –– at least when you consider these are championship games won in a regional, sectional and supersectional play we’re talking about.
The closest game the Mustangs have had this postseason came in a 81-47 win over Putnam County in the sectional title game. The winning margins in six tournament victories have been 62, 46, 40, 44, 34 and 38 points. That’s an average victory margin of 44 points a game.
Yorkville Christian has made a mockery of things so far en route to its first appearance in the IHSA State Finals.
If this trend keeps up over the next two games in Champaign it will be something we’ve never seen before in state tournament history.
Providence St. Mel, circa 1985, is the gold standard for small school dominance. And that was impressively done back when the state had a two-class system.
St. Mel, led by the great Lowell Hamilton and guard Fernando Bunch, was a traveling road show and was as dominating of a force as we’ve seen in small school basketball.
St. Mel won the state championship by 32 points, defeating Chrisman 95-63. The Knights beat Dwight 117-69 in the super-sectional and knocked off Princeville 89-56 in the state quarterfinals.
The only competitive game St. Mel had throughout the postseason was an 83-72 win over Hoopeston in the state semifinals.
As for big school domination, the 1981 Quincy team and the 1993 King come to mind, cruising to titles with whopping scoring margins.
But for Yorkville Christian the competition does step up in comparison to a friendly tournament road the state’s top team was marching through the past two weeks.
Every Class 1A semifinalist in Champaign was a No. 1 seed, including Scales Mound, a fun story out of the northwest part of the state.
Scales Mound is a tiny Class 1A school with an enrollment of 70 students. This is a program that just won its sixth regional title in school history –– and first-ever sectional championship.
After being ranked in the top two all season in the statewide Class 1A AP poll, Scales Mound has made it to the big stage.
Nonetheless, there is no one who believes Yorkville Christian will be challenged in either of the State Finals games in Champaign.
Why Yorkville Christian is so different
This is clearly a dominating force for small school basketball, even with the worst record of the four state qualifiers, and there are several reasons why.
First, it’s extremely rare for a Class 1A school to boast a high-major recruit like Jaden Schutt, one of the top seniors in the state who is headed to Duke next year.
The 6-5 senior guard is a next-level player and then some when you consider he’s now playing solely against Class 1A competition.
While Schutt is the star attraction, Yorkville Christian has a plethora of shot-making perimeter players. It’s far from being a one-man show.
Yes, Schutt has drilled 109 three-pointers on the year and is averaging 25.3 points a game, but seniors Tyler Burrows (11.1 ppg) and KJ Vasser (16.4 ppg) must be accounted for on the perimeter as offensive weapons.
Plus, junior Brayden Long has battled back from injury and sophomore David Douglas is an up-and-coming talent. Both are added threats.
Vasser has connected on a whopping 115 three-pointers while Long, Douglas and Burrows have combined for 102 more three-pointers. With Schutt’s 100-plus threes that’s close to a mind-boggling 350 three-pointers on the season.
Liberty, Scales Mound and Steeleville have not faced the likes of a team with a high-major recruit who is surrounded by so many offensive weapons.
But despite 1A dominance over the past two-plus weeks, Yorkville Christian has felt defeat –– 13 times this season –– and faced nearly every situation a team could in a season with the schedule it played.
Yorkville Christian has played by far the strongest schedule any Class 1A school has faced since the four-class system began in 2008.
The Mustangs have played 10 Class 3A and Class 4A teams that reached sectional championship games, including four sectional champs. Throughout the season Yorkville Christian played highly-ranked big schools such as top-ranked Glenbard West, New Trier, Kenwood, Glenbrook South, Oswego East, St. Ignatius, St. Rita and Hyde Park.
“They know how losing feels,” said Sovern of his players. “With the teams that we have played, our players know the formula that has hurt us. So that overconfidence can’t set in. We’ve been hammered a few times.”
Sovern admits the schedule has been a huge asset for his team, however, even more so as the postseason has played out.
“It has definitely felt like a different speed for our kids, the game has slowed down for them,” Sovern said of the difference between the regular season and the past three weeks in postseason play.
Sovern, though, knows two things as his team makes the trek to Champaign. He knows anything can happen in high school basketball and is impressed with Steeleville, Yorkville Christian’s semifinal opponent.
“That is a good team we are playing that plays physical, deliberate and runs a lot of different sets,” said Sovern of a Steeleville team that has held 10 of its 11 opponents to 40 or fewer points.
But make no mistake about it, the odds are long any of the three other remaining Class 1A teams can make a serious run at Yorkville Christian this weekend.