On Aug. 5, one week before the start of the 2021-22 school year, the Litchfield school board introduced Nick Gerndt as the 23rd head coach in the history of the Litchfield High School boys basketball program.
Coach Gerndt, the fifth LHS Basketball in the past 40 years, will take over his second varsity program as he was at the helm of the Greenview High School Bulldogs for two seasons, 2015-2017, compiling a 9-42 record.
A graduate of Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, Gerndt also held positions as assistant coach at Taylorville High School and Illini Central High School and most recently, the eighth grade coach at Athens. Even though Gerndt enters his first year at LHS, he does have some ties in the Purple Panthers family as his wife Danielle is a 2006 graduate of Litchfield High School.
Even with a late coaching change the first week of basketball has been “fantastic” for the Purple Panthers according to Coach Gerndt.
“The players have been really working hard and competing with each other. They are a great group of young men to be around every day and help each other out,” Gerndt said.
Positive has been the key word heard around the school and community about the Purple Panthers according to Gerndt, but more importantly both the school and the community are looking for a successful program.
The Purple Panthers will look to sit on top of the South Central Conference for the first time since the 2013-2014 season and secure their first regional championship since the 2004-2005 season.
Despite not getting much time to get to know his players and his players to get to know him as a coach, Gerndt feels the transition has gone well.
“It has been difficult not having a summer to put my philosophy into practice, but the players have really bought into the concepts and are taking to the tactics really well,” he said.
The Purple Panthers will enter as a young group this season with only one senior listed on a roster that also contains four juniors, 11 sophomores and six freshmen.
Not only will the Purple Panthers contain a young roster they will also be missing two key components from last years’ team as both Jace and Blaine Stewart transferred to Hillsboro High School.
The Stewart brothers led the Purple Panthers in six different categories including Jace’s team high 61 points.
Litchfield will not be left short-handed, though, as sophomore Carson Saathoff returns after he finished third in the scoring column as a freshman last season.
Saathoff, who also had 27 rebounds, will return with classmate Keenan Powell, who finished fourth in total points as a freshman. Powell’s defense was a big assist for the Purple Panthers last season as he posted 13 steals on the season.
The Purple Panthers will also return A.J. Odle, who gave the Purple Panthers some key minutes off the bench last season.
“He has really committed to playing high level defense and is a knock down shooter,” Coach Gerndt said of Odle, who showed promise in the early preseason.
Coach Gerndt will also turn to Victor McGill, Clayton Bishop, Tate Dobrinich, Nate Fetter, Bryce Hires and Gavin Thimsen to help lead the Purple Panthers on the hardwood this season.
With the young bunch of Purple Panthers Coach Gerndt will rely on his coaching staff as a crutch this season as he will be joined on the bench with two former LHS players in Anthony Robinson and Dale Vollentine. Robinson, will help bridge the transition with the new coaching staff as Robinson has been involved in the basketball program at both the middle and high school level.
The help of his home grown coaches will help the new coach when it comes to the South Central Conference but Coach Gerndt is not a complete stranger to the conference. While at Taylorville he helped coach the Tornadoes in the Rick McGraw Memorial Tournament, which contains several South Central Conference teams. He also was on the bench in several battles with the Tornadoes’ big rival, the Pana Panthers.
Gerndt listed Pana, Greenville and Hillsboro as tough opponents in the South Central Conference.
“There are a lot of high quality basketball programs in the conference and the addition of North Mac next year will only increase the competition,” Gerndt said.
Litchfield will open their season in unfamiliar territory as the Purple Panthers will venture out of the familiar territory of the Metro-East Lutheran Turkey Tipoff to the Waterloo Thanksgiving Tournament. Litchfield will open the tournament and the season on Tuesday, Nov. 23, against the host school Waterloo.
The tournament will bring some early key challenges to Litchfield but will allow the Purple Panthers to battle teams they normally will not season throughout the season. The Waterloo Thanksgiving Tournament consists of Freeburg, Valmeyer and Waterloo Gibault, plus the host school and Litchfield.
The Purple Panthers home opener is slated for Tuesday, Dec. 7, against the Bunker Hill Minutemen.
Even though the Purple Panthers will be under new leadership, Litchfield will bring some skills that were developed in the second half of the shorten 2021 season. Coach Gerndt sees his team as a team that will be tough and has his sights set on being the toughest in the South Central Conference.
Through the first week of practice coach know that he “has some very skilled players who like to play defense,” but what he doesn’t know yet is how his team will react when things get challenging.
But with Waterloo on the horizon Coach Gerndt’s team has shown a commitment and desire to be great.
“They have really improved in just the few months we have had open gyms and practices so far. I am really looking forward to coaching these players this upcoming season.”
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