How are things looking heading into Saturday’s season opener for Three Rivers basketball? Everyone is going to find out during the game … including the players and coaches. Before he retired, former Three Rivers coach Gene Bess would say he wished he could wave a magic wand and skip ahead, but every season is a process. Each season is its own process of teaching this and installing that. Teams and players can measure whether they are behind or ahead depending on when they did these similar things last year. Return a bunch of sophomores, and maybe learning the offense doesn’t take as long. But that’s assuming a typical year, with practices starting Oct. 1 and the regular season kicking off in November. Then, prepare for the Region XVI season that begins in early January, usually a two-month time frame between the two.
This year, Three Rivers has three weeks as both men and women’s teams have crammed 22 games into 61 days, including three games against each region opponent. Women’s coach Alex Wiggs, who describes himself as an organized planner, had to redo the team’s schedule four times. It was pretty much finished in the summer, and then the NJCAA moved basketball to the second semester. “I’d get it done, and then there’d be a change. Then I’d get that change done, and there’d be another change,” Wiggs said.
The women will host John A. Logan (Ill.) at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Libla Family Sports Complex, and then the men will follow against Illinois Prep. “It feels weird because we’re used to starting in November, but now that we’re starting in January, it’s not normal for us,” Poplar Bluff alumna and Three Rivers freshman Abby Turner said. “We’ve been practicing for so long. We’re just ready to go out there and show everybody how well we’ve been working.” For games in the Libla Sports Complex, fans will be REQUIRED to wear a facemask AT ALL TIMES. What will follow is the women’s longest break between games, four days, until they play at John A. Logan on Jan. 28.
With no tournaments during the regular season this year, neither team will play on back-to-back nights until the region tournament but instead are booked for almost every Wednesday and Saturday with an assortment of Monday/Tuesday/ Thursday games mixed in. “Things are different. I think with COVID, things are different, and starting the season Jan. 23, there’s a lot of changes,” Bess said. “I felt like we’ve been behind, but I felt like we’ve been getting in some good work since Jan. 4. We’ve been able to get in two-a-days and things like that. So that has been good,” Bess said. The Raiders will get an early test when they head to John A. Logan on Jan. 28. The Volunteers were named the No. 1 team in the preseason rankings.
Moberly Area earned is also ranked 20th and Mineral Area is 21st. On the women’s side, defending Region XVI champion Moberly Area was ranked 17th with Three Rivers earning the 25th spot. The Region XVI season kicks off Feb. 10 when both teams host State Fair. Three Rivers has home region games on Saturdays this season on Feb. 13, March 13, March 20 and March 27. The men and women will also have weekday home region games against Moberly Area on March 3, and on March 15, the women will play Crowder, and the men will play MSU-West Plains. The women will host Crowder on Feb. 13, while the men will face MSU-West Plains. Mineral Area will come to the Libla on March 13, which is also the Raider Reunion and Hall of Fame Night. State Fair plays both the men and women on March 20, and the women will host Jefferson on March 27 in a solo day that is also their regular-season finale. The men will wrap up their regular season at Mineral Area on March 24, with the Region XVI Tournament beginning March 30.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic