By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, ILL. — The Fulton Steamers were supposed to have played today in the West Carroll Holiday Tournament, but because of Winter Storm Gemini and the freezing rain that hit the area Friday, the momentum that they built this week is frozen.
Fulton is 8-1 on the season with their lone loss being to Dixon last Saturday. Steamers head coach RJ Coffey is disappointed that the Steamers are left being at home instead of playing.
“We were upset to learn that it got canceled,” Coffey said. “We felt like we’ve been playing some great basketball right now, and we wanted to keep things as hot as they were.”
Even though the Steamers began the West Carroll Tournament with the loss to Dixon, Coffey feels that they had a good week, defeating Stockton and Unity Christian.
“We were really happy defeating a team as good as Stockton, and the win against Unity was one that we thought we should have won and did,” he said. “We have had several guys step up this season in many ways.”
Coffey is in his first season as Fulton head coach after being an assistant at Clinton High School, where he still serves as a special education teacher.
Coffey has brought in a new system, taking out the old triangle playbook and substituting a more uptempo style.
“The guys have bought into it from day one, which was awesome,” Coffey said. “Basically we want to be fast on both ends of the floor, push the ball as much as we can, and play aggressive.”
Coffey mentioned two players who were important to Fulton’s success: Matt Dail and Zach Barber.
“Those are two guys who step up every night,” Coffey said. “For us to have Zach and Matt shoot the ball as well as they do makes what we try to do that much more exciting.”
Steamers senior center Jake Willging says the transition from the old system to Coffey’s was a tough one, but one that everyone was willing to buy into.
“Mostly everyone had to get into shape to fit the system, so we ran a lot,” Willging said. “We started with it during summer league play, and it took time for us to get used to it, but I thought we did some good things.”
The Steamers also won 18 games in their summer league play. Last year, Fulton won six games in the regular season.
So how exactly do the players feel about Coffey coming in with a new system?
“We’re doing the things he wants to see out of it,” Willging said. “We’re letting our shooters shoot, we’re not letting our opponent dictate how we play, and we’re more uptempo.”
Coffey is proud of his team making the change to near-perfection.
“They’re a great group of guys who are willing to work hard,” he said. “I really wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to click at first, but now I think it’s going very well.”
Coffey has had to make some changes himself. Coffey was raised through the Fulton system, playing his high school basketball for the Steamers.
“Nothing but good has happened since I started going back to Fulton,” he said. “Granted, I didn’t have to go through a huge change of location going over to Clinton, but it’s so much fun coming back to where I played to coach. I love the community and the people here.”