It’s only 40 miles or so from Hillsboro to Carlyle Lake, but when the Hillsboro High School bass fishing team hits the water on May 21, it will represent just how far the Toppers have come in a short time.
Fishing on the familiar waters of Coffeen Lake on Thursday, May 6, the foursome of Reese Morford, Austin Loskot, Austin Edwards and Elias Gutierrez weighed in 11.16 pounds of fish at the IHSA sectional, good enough to put them in third place in the 26-boat tournament and earn them a spot in the IHSA State Finals in Carlyle on May 21-22.
“They are some great kids. These boys have braved the elements each and every time that we have put something on for them to fish, whether it was wind or rain,” said Dennis Loskot, who coaches the team with Tim Morford and captained the state qualifying boat. “The mentality of these kids is just overwhelming.”
The Hillsboro bass fishing team’s journey started back in September 2019, when a group of eight students took the idea of a bass fishing team to the Hillsboro Board of Education. From there, the team received approval, but was sidelined in 2020 due to COVID-19. The sectional was payoff for all of the hard work the anglers put in, including four weeks of practice for the 20-person team that determined which eight would get the opportunity to fish at the sectional.
“From the beginning we were worried about even getting a team from the school board, since it had been declined before,” said Austin Edwards, one of the original eight to petition the board. “I would like to say thank you to all of the board members who said yes, not only for us, but for giving future students a chance to have another sport at Hillsboro.”
While one Hillsboro team showed that they will be a force to be reckoned with at Carlyle, the other Hillsboro boat showed they are no slouches either. The team of Bryce Connor, Ethan Blackburn, Jayden Snow and Deklan Riggs, with Riggs’ father David captaining the boat, weighed in 10.36 pounds of fish. That was good enough for sixth overall and just .8 pounds behind their teammates and the third and final qualifying spot.
Their performance gave Hillsboro two boats in the top ten, one of three schools to accomplish that feat, along with Breese Mater Dei, who was fifth and 10th, and Alton Marquette, who was first and fourth.
“I think this is a great statement for us being first-year tournament fishermen, having two boats in the top six and one being in third and advancing,” Edwards said. “This will make us stand a little taller when we’re talked about as a fishing team. I think this sets a good standard for the kids in the future, to show them they have great coaches and team members next to them and that they should be proud to be on this team.”
Highland would earn the other state spot, finishing second with 12.19 pounds, .54 pounds behind Marquette for the sectional championship. Greenville, Bunker Hill and Litchfield, who caught 9.34 pounds of fish to finish ninth, rounded out the top ten.
“Easton Grammer, A.J. Spherd and Jake Cunningham fished for us,” said Litchfield Coach Doug Hoster. “Jake caught all the keepers and had to leave at 11:30 a.m. The other boys tried their best.”
With sectionals in the books, Hillsboro’s focus is now on state, where they will face 74 other teams, three each from the 25 sectionals around the state. They may be newcomers, but Edwards and company have plans to make their presence felt in Carlyle.
“We’re going to try to come home with a trophy,” Edwards said. “I have zero doubts we can do this. The boys that are going to state are all knowledgeable and we have great boat captains and coaches.”
Regardless of how the Toppers do at state, they’ve already made an impact from their perseverance, their success and their dedication to fishing.
“These kids have the passion and love of the sport like I have never seen. I’m super proud that they let me be part of this outstanding organization,” Loskot said. “I am blessed to be their coach.”