Flashback seven years. Senior Cody Rincker sits in the Stew-Stras locker room, glancing over the season schedule.
Rincker, the Comets' unquestioned leader at guard, peers over the upcoming games and marks down those that will hold the key to Stew-Stras' success. Among those crucial contests is the annual grudge-match with St. Anthony."It was one of the games you circled right off the bat," Rincker says now, not yet a decade removed from his senior season in the green and white. "You always respected them, you had a respect for the tradition they have. You knew that it was going to be a tough, hard-nosed game."It would have been hard for Rincker to imagine back then, but the 2006 Stew-Stras graduate now finds himself on the other side of the rivalry. On April 18, Rincker was introduced as the new head coach of the Bulldogs, taking over for Mark Tovey, who held the title for the previous three seasons."I'm looking forward to making the most of it," he says. "The chance to be in this position, you have the chance to work with some young men where you can be a role model for them and set an en example both in basketball and as far as life goes too."Rincker understands that his new position does command a great deal of respect in the surrounding community, but he also realizes that Comet faithful may give him a hard time for stepping behind enemy lines."I'm sure there will be some good-natured ribbing," he says. "I'm not too worried, I'm sure I can handle it."I will always hope the best for Stew-Stras and hope they play well, but this is an exciting challenge."At the ripe age of 25, Rincker has already handled quite a load in his brief, but successful tour as a basketball player and coach. After scoring just north of 20 points per game as senior en route to All-NTC first team honors, Rincker played three seasons at Lincoln Land before spending his final two at Division I Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.Once his playing days ended in 2011, Rincker exchanged his jersey for a whistle, taking over the boys junior high program at St. Elmo, where he transformed a team that won just three games before his arrival into a 17-6 squad this past season. During his two seasons with the Eagles, Rincker also had the opportunity to assist on varsity coach Greg Feezel's staff, learning the ins and outs of coaching at a higher level."They really made me understand how much preparation goes into being a good coach and scouting other teams," Rincker says. "Just the daily work and preparation going into practice. They have been good mentors for the last few years."Now heading to St. Anthony, Rincker says he offers the Bulldogs a fresh start, one with an excited coach who will bring plenty of passion."Being that I'm young, I have a lot of enthusiasm, a passion for the game," he says. "It's not been that long since I've been a player myself."At SIUE, Rincker averaged 4.6 points during his senior year, starting six games for the Cougars and scoring a career-high 14 points on two separate occassions. Having recently been through the grind of a long, challenging season, Rincker says he will better relate to the young men in the St. Anthony program."I understand the struggles of a season, what a coach can do that really upsets you and I can use that to my advantage," he says. "I will bring some excitement and energy into the program."Though his experience as a coach is limited, he's long had coaching DNA in his blood.
Legendary Teutopolis coach Lawrence Carie is his grandfather, and Rincker says he has soaked in plenty of knowledge from the Wooden Shoes' great."He was even my coach back whenever I was a kid," Rincker says. "I try to draw a lot of knowledge from him and take what I can."If Carie's success is any indicator, St. Anthony may have just struck gold. Carie directed the Teutopolis program for 23 years from the 1950s to the early 80s, winning 443 games with a winning percentage above 70 percent. For Rincker, the spotlight is nothing new, and he says he is ready to rise to the occasion, despite his tender age, at one of the area's most history-laden programs."I know with age comes experience and a lot of things, but I think through my years in college and with Greg and Ryan (Beccue) helping me out over at St. Elmo, I've learned a lot," he says. "I'm sure there's going to be things I'm going to learn, but I'm willing to go through it and learn from the mistakes."Even after a down season this winter, Rincker knows the weight the St. Anthony name still carries. Playing or coaching for the Bulldogs, you've got to prepared for the other team's best effort each night, he said."That's what you live for," he says. "If you're an athlete, a competitor, you want everyone's best challenge, you want that mark on your back."St. Anthony will put in some extra work this offseason to get back to top form, starting with open gyms and summer camps to get familiar with Rincker's style of play.
He says he favors the motion offense and man-to-man on the defensive end, but that he doesn't have one set style."I think it depends on when I get into an open gym and see what our strengths and weaknesses are," he says. "As far as offense goes, it may be a few different things. Defensively, it comes down to toughness."Just a few years removed from slapping the floor and sinking into his defensive stance, Rincker still has plenty of toughness left in the tank. He's hoping he can inject that same lunch-pail attitude into the Bulldogs."The biggest thing I'm looking for is for them to just be working hard," he says. "When that happens, the sky is the limit."
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org