BELVIDERE — In the 12 years of school history, Belvidere North has won 12 state trophies, including six state titles in cross country and cheerleading. Last year alone, the Blue Thunder won six NIC-10 titles and tied for third in the all-sports standings with 156.5 points, only three points out of third.
But not in boys basketball. The Blue Thunder have never been better than 6-10 in the NIC-10. Their only overall winning season was their second year (15-13) and they are 39-135 the last six seasons.
Todd Brannan, who led Jefferson to a school-record 26 wins last year, aims to change that. He takes over a young team, led by 6-foot-5 junior center John Carlson (11.9 points, 5.5 rebounds), that lost 10 games by fewer than 10 points last year and took co-champion Boylan into double-overtime.
“North is very successful in a lot of sports and they are competitive in almost everything,” Brannan said. “You look across the board, both boys and girls, and they are competitive, with a lot of state champions. It’s time our basketball team gets on board with the rest of the athletic teams at North.
“I’m leaning on the fact we have six or seven kids that played football. Our football team plays triple-option football. There is nothing more physical and old-school than the triple option. Our basketball team needs to be a lot tougher. I’m hoping our football players bring toughness to basketball.”
Besides getting tougher and a year older, Brannan said the Blue Thunder have to fight to the very end.
"We're hoping we're playing our best basketball by the end of the season," Brannan said. "We need to get to the point where we compete for 32 minutes. We lost a lot of games by 10 points or less. That's a couple of rebounds here or there, a couple of turnovers, a couple of free throws. Those things add up."
Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; email@example.com; @matttrowbridge
Blue Thunder at a glance
Coach: Todd Brannan (1st season)
Last season: 6-23 (3-13)
Predicted finish: 7th
Returning starters: Holden Paddock (6-1 Jr. G), John Carlson (6-5 Jr. C), Zach Reidenbach (5-11 Jr. G).
Other key players: Randy Ahlenius (6-3 Sr. F), Matt Bucher (6-4 Jr. F), Anthony Espensen (6-3 Jr. F), Kyle Kaempfer (6-5 Jr. C), Caden Brannan (5-11 Jr. G), Carson Blatchford (6-1 Jr. G), Josh Triplett (6-1 Jr. G), Zach Matzl (6-1 Jr. G), Andre Brown (6-0 Jr. G), Aedan Rowe (6-0 Jr. G).
Strengths: Balance, coachable, hungry to win.
Weaknesses: Only one senior among top 13 players; lack of a winning tradition.
Outlook: North looks to be on the way up. John Carlson should be one of the best big men in the conference and former Jefferson coach Todd Brannan has a long history of success in the NIC-10. “We are junior-dominated, but we do have experience,” Brannan said. “We are learning the intensity needed to compete on a daily basis.”