Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Sports

April 5, 2014

More than a stat: Altamont's Ziegler caps career as EDN Player of the Year

ALTAMONT —  Garrett Ziegler's "ultimate goal" this year for his Altamont Indians was to deliver them their first basketball sectional win ever — he said as much after scoring his 1,000th point in February.

Underneath that came a deeper, more basic wish that drove him to work harder than he ever had in three seasons of basketball with the Indians — for both his town and himself.

"I think the reason people do stuff is there's an absolute source to them, there's an underlying motive to them," Ziegler said. "To me, the worst thing I could ever do is be forgotten, I have to be remembered. To do that, especially at Altamont, where the average current is just to be mediocre.

"I wanted to do something to make me and my team remembered. I felt like an extra obligation to not waste this senior year. I don't want to be a stat."

And while he didn't get where he wanted, losing a heartbreaker to St. Anthony in the Nokomis Regional final, he's accumulated a number of honors thanks to his stats: All-National Trail Conference tournament team, All-NTC team, NTC MVP, IBCA Class 1A/2A third-team all-state, AP Class 1A all-state honorable mention.

Averaging 16.2 points, 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals a game, Ziegler can also add the Effingham Daily News' All-Area Player of the Year title to the list of his accomplishments.

The numbers were a step back scoring-wise, but he nearly tripled his assists. The overall team defense improved, turning them from a solid NTC team to a contender at the state level, winning the NTC tournament and tying for the regular-season crown with a 24-4 record. Ziegler credited the defensive focus on coach John Niebrugge's arrival his junior year, and he put winning over his "chief endeavor" of scoring points and got over his own hangups about trusting his teammates to make plays.

It worked from the get-go, rattling off wins early and often, with Altamont's first loss coming during the Vandalia Holiday Tournament to NTC rival St. Anthony, while the Indians finished third at the tournament.

While he did defer the scoring load on some nights, he raised his game to help the Indians down St. Anthony for the NTC tournament title. Altamont bested them again about three weeks later to help clinch a share of the NTC regular season crown with the Bulldogs and Dieterich, as Ziegler scored 32 in a 70-63 win. It didn't surprise fellow senior Cole Borders.

"Garrett is just as competitive as anyone I've ever met in my life," Borders said. "Especially for the St. Anthony games, and I know he loves playing against them, it brings out the best in him."

He also played well in a pair of classics with Dieterich, splitting the series with a Movin' Maroons team that went to Super-Sectionals, losing in the regular season but winning in overtime at the NTC tourney semifinals.

It was fitting the Indians and Bulldogs would run back into each other at the Nokomis Regional, with Altamont holding a 2-1 season series lead and almost pushing it to 3-1.

Ziegler hit a go-ahead layup with six seconds left to go up 39-38, only to see his counterpart Neil Williams drive the length of the court and do the same to end Altamont's season and Ziegler's hopes of putting his school on the map.

"St. Anthony's a big personal problem for me," he said. "It felt gratifying for me to drop 32 on them, it was one of my best moments in high school and I thought I got them again. We didn't play that well. I thought, 'Holy crap, we're going to sneak by, we're going to steal this one.' Then (Williams) does the exact same thing and it's deflating."

Still, his teammates thought the changes in the coaching brought on by Niebrugge helped carry Altamont to one of its finest seasons in 100 years, winning its first NTC tournament title in 24 years. It also helped Ziegler to the finest season of his career.

Borders, a fellow senior and member of the baseball team with Ziegler, saw the evolution of the team game and the play of Ziegler from their freshmen seasons.

"I knew ever since freshman year he was going to be a great player, it was just a matter of him evolving his game," Borders said. "Once Mr. Niebrugge got here, he changed everything and his game evolved."

Borders emerged this season as a floor-spacer and a reliable three-point shooter, while Derek Jahraus stepped into a bigger role in the rotation working both inside and out.

That work was key, as Jahraus said anyone like himself, Borders, Jake Seidel or Justin McGinnis could also score double digits any night.

Jahraus thought the leadership of the senior class may have brought about a change to the Altamont program, along with Niebrugge at the helm.

"Everyone had a huge role in it, but Garrett was a big leader this year," Jahraus said. "I think we're going to be remembered as the first team of many teams to come to set some records, win some championships and hopefully, win a game at sectionals."

With Niebrugge at the helm, Ziegler said the amount of time spent practicing defense and working on schemes went up dramatically, estimating as much as 70 percent of practices were spent working on the defense.

Niebrugge, a Teutopolis alum and former assistant coach for the Wooden Shoes, implemented that style of play, and more importantly, that style of practice.

"It sounds like that T-Town mantra. If you have a defensive mindset, you get a lot of points off defense and then you can make a mark," Ziegler said. "Not taking off drills sounds common, but if you go to many area basketball practices, they're not very intense. We lacked that the first three years."

The marriage between player, scheme and coach worked wonders, as Ziegler's three steals a game paid off with a number of fast breaks, leading to breakout baskets for the point guard and a more vaunted defense that could step up and play in the half-court as well.

As for Ziegler's desire to be remembered, Niebrugge thinks it's a no-brainer, drawing from his experience growing up and emulating the players from the 1990s at Teutopolis.

"This team is going to be remembered for a long time at Altamont," Niebrugge said. "We didn't accomplish the things we wanted to. Garrett, being the leader of the team, will be the frontrunner that changes Altamont for the better.

"There are boys in the fourth and fifth grade who want to be Garrett Ziegler, like when I was growing up in T-Town and I wanted to be Eric Swingler. Garrett is now that kid here."

And after it all, they fell just short. Ziegler said he's still getting over the loss to St. Anthony.

"That's what made the regional loss so tough, even more so than my junior year," he said. "I don't feel any regret, because I did give it everything I had and we still lost."

While he debated playing baseball at Washington University in St. Louis, the city will be the same with a different destination. Ziegler will attend St. Louis University and will study business administration, ending his athletic career.

Ziegler still has a chance to reach the sectional round in baseball and earn a win, something the softball team accomplished last year while making it to Super-Sectionals with a good chance to head back this year. The Indians' baseball team made the regional final last year before losing 4-3 to South Central, who advanced to the sectional final themselves.

But even if he doesn't, Ziegler has started to realize that their accomplishments were enough for him to be remembered.

"I want to be remembered as the leader of a good team, and if we went farther, we would have been a great team," he said. "I can share those memories with others. A whole town unites — unless you're (Mt. Carmel's) Tyra Buss or (Robinson's) Meyers Leonard — around a team and not one person. It only goes so far unless it's a team."

1
Text Only
Sports
  • Groce.jpg Illini coach Groce stops in Effingham; Speech focuses on team building

    A crowded ballroom met for "An Evening with John Groce” Thursday inside the Thelma Keller Convention Center.
    Groce has been the men's basketball coach at the University of Illinois since March 2012. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Ohio University, where he led the Bobcats to a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012.
    His speech was focused on team building and Groce said it was the a variation of the same speech he will give Sunday evening at his beginning-of-the-year players' meeting.

    August 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • MadisonBushue.jpg St. Anthony second at Charleston scramble

    In their first meet of the season, the St. Anthony Bulldogs came out firing, taking second place at the Charleston Invitational Thursday afternoon.
    The tournament was a scramble at Charleston Country Club, and the hosting Trojans took home the tournament with a combined score of 72. St. Anthony was five shots back, shooting a 77. Effingham finished fourth with an 88, and Teutopolis took ninth with a 98.

    August 22, 2014 3 Photos

  • Ryan.jpg Czachorski: Lunt the right man at QB

    There haven't been many times I've put pen to paper — or I guess more fittingly finger to keyboard — and written about the Illinois Fighting Illini.
    Part of it is due to their football team's struggles, as it's hard to have an opinion on them outside of "man, they went 1-7 in the Big 10 last year" or "I remember that one time they went to the Rose Bowl, but that's about it." Part of it is staying in my wheelhouse, which is MAC football and my alma mater Central Michigan Chippewas, a topic that doesn't concern many, if any, around here.

    August 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • NeogaGresens.jpg Neoga prepares for upcoming volleyball season

    Another area team finds themselves with a new coach holding the clipboard this season.
    Susan Hutchinson is the new volleyball coach for the Neoga Indians, but she isn't new to the game of volleyball. Hutchinson coached at Mattoon for seven years when they were still in the Big 12 Conference. She said her new players had to get used to her coaching style very quickly.

    August 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bulldogs fifth at ISU

    St. Anthony took to the links for the second-straight day and had a strong showing at the Raider/Redbird Classic.
    The Bulldogs finished fifth among a 20-team field, shooting a 318. East Peoria shot a 312 to win it, Normal U-High and Lincoln each shot 315s with Normal winning the tie-breaker, and Bloomington took fourth with a 317.

    August 21, 2014

  • DonovanHammer.jpg St. Anthony will lead with speed

    For the last five years, Eric Morales has been the assistant coach of the St. Anthony Bulldogs soccer team. But this season he will have his chance at the helm and try to help lead the Bulldogs to their first regional title since 2010.
    St. Anthony is missing six seniors from last years team, including its leading goal scorer and starting goalie.

    August 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • JakeLinders.jpg Flaming Hearts win St. Anthony Invitational

    The Flaming Hearts of Effingham were the overall winners and also had the medalist. Effingham shot a team score of 312 to beat the host Bulldogs by nine shots. Hearts senior Jackson Wendling finished with a 72 to take medalist honors.

    August 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Willenborg.jpg Teutopolis takes opener against St. Thomas More

    Teutopolis took the course with a new coach and four players, but as coach Becky Probst said, it takes four to score.
    And those four Lady Shoes took their first match of the year, topping Champaign St. Thomas More 216-227 in both teams' openers at Cardinal Golf Course in Effingham.

    August 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • callawaysmith.jpg Time to tee off, golf season starts fall sports campaign today

    The fall sports campaign kicks off in earnest Monday afternoon, with the first area varsity contests being held in Windsor and Effingham this afternoon.
    The St. Anthony Invitational boys golf tournament will be held at Fox Prairie Golf Course at 1 p.m. in Windsor, while the Teutopolis Lady Shoes host St. Thomas More at Cardinal Golf Course at 4 p.m.

    August 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • AndrewBingham.jpg Flaming Hearts' flexibility a plus; Effingham prepping for upcoming soccer season

    Three days into the practice season, Effingham soccer coach Aaron Witges sees a lot of flexibility.
    It was something his squad had last year, with 10 seniors but young players forcing their way into the lineup as well.
    Coming off a 10-8-3 season, some of those young players will find themselves in new positions for the Flaming Hearts this season.

    August 16, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.