Last season’s Streator Bulldogs boys basketball team posted a 17-13 record and rallied down the stretch for a share of the Illinois Central Eight Conference championship.
Most years, coaches hope to return one, two, best-case scenario maybe three regular starters from a successful season such as that.
This season, the Bulldogs, under 15th-year head coach Beau Doty (214-172 career record), return five.
Junior guard Matt Williamson (4.5 points, 2.5 assists per game, Times All-Area honorable mention), junior post Nolan Lukach (5.6 points, 4.4 rebounds), senior wing Landon Muntz (5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals, All-Illinois Central Eight Conference), senior guard Logan Aukland (7.6 points, 1.8 steals, All-ICE, Times All-Area honorable mention) and senior point guard Christian Benning (23.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals, All-ICE, Times All-Area first team) all return as starters from a roster that won 15 more games than it had seniors a year ago.
“We expect a lot from our core of seniors,” Doty said. “We have seven seniors on the team and a couple juniors that have gotten a lot of experience.
“We like how we finished the season last year, pushing to get a share of the conference title with a young group. A lot of continuity should help these first few weeks, but we’re really leaning on our seniors and our veterans.”
Quinn Baker (3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds), Cade Peterson (2.7 points after working his way back from an injury last season), Zander McCloskey (1.2 points) and Alex Kostal (1.0 points) round out the senior class and are joined on the Bulldogs roster by juniors – many of whom got a taste of varsity action as well last winter – Isaiah Brown, Andrew Vogel, Isaiah Weibel, Nolan Ketcham and Blaize Bressner.
It’s a group that will challenge the returning starters for playing time and a place in the starting five.
“I think we have more than five starters,” Doty said.
The name and/or statistics of one of those returning starters may have jumped off the page or screen. Benning will do that, a skilled and physical all-state matchup problem in basketball as well as football who enters the season third on Streator’s all-time scoring list. He is a tough but potentially obtainable 756 points behind 2012 graduate J.J. Cravatta.
For the Bulldogs to be their best and win their first regional title since 2015, Doty believes the rest of the Bulldogs need to be able to shoulder more of the load on a night-to-night basis.
“I think last year with the inexperience we had and Christian coming back as an all-conference player his sophomore year with an entirely new roster, there were times we leaned on him pretty heavily to carry the offensive load. The consistency [of other players’ contribution] was up and down, and that was to be expected with our youth,” Doty said.
“This year we expect a much more balanced attack. Obviously, you can’t deny Christian’s ability and what he’s accomplished in two years statistically, and also for our team’s winning. But for us, the consistency and the spread of our offense is going to look a lot more balanced this year if we want to get to that next level.
“I think teams are probably going to view us a certain way, but for us to reach our full potential as a group against tougher opponents and in the postseason, we’re going to have to have that balance and that ability.”
A beefed-up nonconference schedule includes regular-season meetings with Pontiac, Seneca on Dec. 21 (played at the United Center, the home of the Chicago Bulls), East Peoria and Normal West. They also have a Jan. 13 visit from Morris and a Feb. 3 trip up Route 23 to Ottawa. The Bulldogs open the season in Ottawa’s Dean Riley “Shootin’ the Rock” Tournament on Monday.