Champaign Central Chronicle

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Champaign Central Chronicle

Champaign Central Chronicle

Central Sports Preview – A Look at the Starting Winter Seasons

Central Sports Preview - A Look at the Starting Winter Seasons

Winter is arriving once again to Illinois, bringing back cold temperatures, snow, and high school sports. During winter, Champaign Central hosts a variety of IHSA sponsored winter sports, including boys’/girls’ basketball, boys’ swim/dive, wrestling, and competitive dance, bringing hundreds of students followed by thousands of more fans to everywhere from Combes Gym to Unit 4 Pool. 

One noticeable change this winter season will be the return of Central’s banners honoring past state finalists and champions to Combes Gym following their removal for renovations a few years ago. This time however, Combes Gym will feature two new banners of recent alumni from last year’s senior class, one honoring state champion Wade Schacht in 2A boys’ golf (Fall sport), and state champion Nolan Miller in boys’ swim/dive’s 200 freestyle event.

“The culture there, the history there, it feels like a basketball gym, it’s a basketball feel when you walk in that gym. Other gyms are new but when you walk in that gym you can tell a lot of people played in there.” Said Head Boys’ Basketball Coach PJ Keaton on Combes Gym. “It brings back that feeling. When we had all of that down, it seemed like a visitors gym. It didn’t seem like the original Combes Gym that I played in. Now that they’ve got the banners back up and they’ve posted all of those things for people that won state, it just feels like Central’s Combes Gym.”


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Central’s boys’ swim/dive team came hot off of a thrilling season last year, being one of two IHSA sports at Central to bring home a state champion. This year, they’re looking to dive right back into that dynasty, where they’ve won sixteen sectional championships, seven individual state titles, including four by Olympic medalist Tyler McGill, and one by 2023 senior Nolan Miller in the past 20 years alone. 

“It’s been a tradition of excellence really for a long time, even before 2018. There was an upset where Centennial won (Sectionals) in 2017 because we didn’t have divers mostly, but since the early 2000s it’s just been dominant in the community.” said Senior Swimmer Jonathan Smith on Central’s Boys’ Swim/Dive program. “It’s just a fun community, we love to win and have success, but at the same time we definitely do have fun. It’s a really fun balance between fun and high achieving.”

Despite losing key swimmers like Nolan Miller and Aidan Williams, Smith says the team’s goals this year are to “Keep the ball rolling” with the younger guys, saying “We have a lot of depth on our team, we have a lot of young guys that are ready to step up and we want to win sectionals, we also didn’t win Big 12 last year, Normal Community won that, but we haven’t won Big 12 in 15-20 years, so we’d really like to win that. We’ve got some really good underclassmen, really good depth for relays, so we just want to keep the ball rolling.”

Smith was also asked about his favorite moment on the swim team, where he mentioned watching Nolan Miller win his 200 free title last year.

 “It’s just a really big accomplishment, there’s no 1A/2A/3A he just won, he’s the best in the state.” Smith said on Miller’s title. “It’s a Chicago dominated sport, so to have a Central Illinois kid win is just really special.”

You’ll be able to see the Maroons compete in their first home meet on December 12th at Unit 4 Pool for a dual meet against Danville High School at 4:30 PM.



This year will be an important year for Central’s boys’ basketball team, coming into their first year under new Head Coach PJ Keaton following the departure of LeConte Nix after last season, citing health reasons. With a new face leading the boys’ varsity squad, one thing on many people’s minds this year is how different, or similar, the team’s goals and leadership may look.

“The goal is to win the state championship, but some of our other goals are to keep everybody eligible, and to try to get at least 80% of our students to be on the honor roll.” Said Keaton, who previously was an assistant coach and JV coach at Central for 11 years before getting the Head Coaching job, and is a former Maroons basketball player himself, graduating from Central in 2005. “Just to build young men up, teach them life lessons through basketball, and ultimately just to have fun.”

When Keaton was asked about what he wants to build onto the program as head coach, he remarked, “Just a winning culture, the last three or four years we’ve been down, we just haven’t been to the typical Central standards of basketball.”  With Champaign Central High School playing in Harry Combes Gym, named for the head coach from the 1940s who led the Maroons on to multiple IHSA final four appearances and one state title before becoming a University of Illinois hall of fame coach for two decades, and a sign behind one basket famously noting Champaign Central for being the first school in America to win 1000+ Basketball games and 500+ Football games, a winning culture is one thing that stands very important for every program here.

Also interviewed was Chris Bush, coming into a big Junior season with the Maroons after being ranked first in the Big Twelve for double-doubles, blocks, and rebounds and third in the conference for points per game.

 “Personal goals, I want to average a double-double like I did last year, but team goals I want to go to regionals, go to sectionals, maybe go to state, just a lot more wins.” answered Bush when he was asked about his own goals for this year.

 The Maroons first home game will be against Peoria Richwoods in Combes Gym on November 28th at 7:00 PM, after first kicking off their season at the St. Anthony Turkey Tournament over Thanksgiving Week. 

When it comes to “The Game”, however, the Maroons won’t face off against the other Unit 4 high school until January 12th in Combes Gym. January’s matchup between the Maroons and Chargers should look to be the most important regular season game in Champaign County this year, after last year’s matchup saw a heartbreaking triple overtime loss in front of a sellout crowd. 

Despite the Maroons having lost that game, Bush said the game was his favorite moment so far playing for Central.



Central’s girls’ basketball team is another young team looking to hit it big this year on the court. With only four seniors on the entire team, the Maroons look to make a run in the playoffs, following last year’s exit in the second round to an eventual state runner-up Lincoln Railsplitters squad.


“Our coaches want us to be a fast paced team, so we’re practicing a lot of speed conditioning and endurance right now, and communication that’s going to be our big thing.” Said Junior Chloe Flynn, coming into the team after not playing her sophomore season. When asked about the return of all the state banners to Combes Gym, where both the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams play, Flynn said “Frankly I love it, it makes Central feel more like an athletic school.”  Like most others, Flynn agreed with how it brings more of the history into our school, and how she wants to carry that legacy on. “Seeing that up, it really makes me feel like we had a dynasty going, so it’s like I want to bring that back.”

Flynn says a lot of her motivation comes from her experience in Georgia with her first coach in middle school, who she viewed very negatively. 

“She put every single other girl in the last game, and after every practice I would ask her what I needed to work on and get better at. I was trying to get to the level she wanted me at, and it was never enough for her.” Said Flynn, remarking how “It just lit a fire in me, even carrying into volleyball, to just prove her wrong, to prove her that I am meant to be on this court and in this gym.”

Surprisingly, the game Flynn was most excited about wasn’t against Centennial or Urbana, instead being their potential matchup against Mahomet-Seymour in the Mattoon tournament. Her reasoning?

“Ever since I was in middle school we haven’t won against Mahomet, at least all the teams I’ve been on. So I’ve always wanted to get that W under our belt against the Bulldogs. I guess Centennial too, we just beat Centennial a lot, so I have more of a burning passion to beat Mahomet.”

Unlike most teams, the Maroons Girls Basketball squad won’t play their first home game in Combes Gym this year until later this season, when they face off against Peoria High on December 20th at 7:00 PM. However, you’ll still be able to see them play in town when the Maroons face off against the Chargers across town a week before on December 13th at 7:30PM.



Central’s dance Team this year is another squad looking to replicate another big season. After not having a team for two years, the Maroons dance squad managed to capture an Illinois Drill Team Association (non-IHSA) state title last February in Springfield. This year, They’re looking for even more, on top of repeating their title.

“Our goal for this competition season is to grow individually, grow as a team, and of course to be state champions for the second year in a row.” said Sophomore dancer Aurelie Gerini,  “I’m most excited for our state competition (assuming we will qualify). The competition can last around 15-17 hours, and it’s the highlight of our season. We work so hard to get to that point and it’s overall such a fun day.”  Unlike other winter sports at Central, competitive dance competes on both the IHSA and non-IHSA level, and won their state title in Springfield in the IDTA’s AAA Division Hip-Hop competition. You’ll be able to see the Maroons dance team perform at halftime during home Boys’ Basketball games this season.



Central’s wrestling team is once again entering an exciting season, after seeing even more first year wrestlers join the team this year compared to last year. Central’s wrestling squad this year features 43 wrestlers, including 10 freshmen, and 25 new members who weren’t on the team last year. New and longtime team members this year range across all grades and weight classes at Central, including Senior Wesley Collins, one of those joining wrestling for the first time.


“A Lot of my friends do wrestling, and they encouraged me to do it, so I was like you know why not, senior year, just sounds fun.” Remarked Collins on why he joined. “I think I look up to my friend Rowan King, he’s super good, he’s been going at it and wants to go higher even beyond high school and wants to work on his wrestling, and he’s funny and not serious but once he gets to actual wrestling, he can make that switch which I think is really good.”

With over half the team composed of new guys, Collins, when asked about the goals for the team this year, answered: “I think state is the goal for everybody.”

wrestling’s first home meet will be on December 2nd in the North Gym, when they host the Maroon Duals at 9:00 AM.

All of the athletes interviewed were also asked why they believed their sport was the best Winter Sport to play, with responses ranging from being able to compete alone to competing with others as a team effort. Below is a list of athletes and their responses.


BOYS’ SWIM/DIVE – Jonathan Smith

Why it’s the Best Winter sport: “Swim, even as you get older it’s something you’re still gonna have, and the health benefits and the longevity of the sport just make it super unique.”

Meet he’s most excited for: Big Twelve Conference



Why it’s the Best winter sport: “I just love basketball.”

Game he’s most excited for: The Game.



Why it’s the Best winter sport: “Probably the competitiveness, being able to actually be right up against your opponents, that’s more exciting, and being part of a team.”


Game she’s most excited for: Mahomet-Seymour, who the Maroons have a chance to meet up against in at the Mattoon Tournament.



Why it’s the Best winter sport: “I may be biased, but yes, I think dance is the best winter sport. Everything we do stems from such an amazing dance community that I am so proud to be a part of.”

Meet she’s most excited for: State


WRESTLING – Wesley Collins

Why it’s the Best winter sport: “It’s one on one, for me I think that’s what I like, it’s me against another guy and that means the only person I let down is myself.”

Meet he’s most excited for: No specific meet, just excited to wrestle.

NOTE: Sports not competing on the IHSA level (boys’ volleyball, archery) were not mentioned in this article.

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Adam Edwards, Opinions Editor
Hello, my name is Adam Edwards (Class of 2025) and I am the new Opinions Editor with The Champaign Chronicle.  I began writing articles with The Chronicle in August of 2023, and assumed the Opinions Editor position in Janurary 2024. Feel free to contact me in the links below.

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