EDWARDSVILLE – A few things have changed for the boys’ basketball team at Edwardsville High for the 2018-19 season, but as the as the title of the famous Led Zeppelin documentary movie says: The Song Remains the Same.

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New head coach Dustin Battas takes over for longtime coach Mike Waldo, who is now an assistant on the men’s team at SIU-Edwardsville, and Battas has a team that has much of the same qualities as in the past.

“Well, we’ve got a good group of guys, and we’ve got a lot of older guys that haven’t got a lot of varsity experience, but they’ve been in our program for four years,” Battas said in an interview. “So practice has been competitive, and it’s been good with those older guys kind of showing the younger guys how we do things. Our big emphasis has been keeping the culture the same that coach Waldo created, carrying it over.”

The top returning seniors will be Malik Robinson and Jaylon Tuggle, who saw considerable playing time on last season’s 18-9 team, and they’ll be joined by fellow seniors Matt Stopka, Grant Schaefer, A.J. Robertson, Jackson Weller and Grayson Slagle. All will be counted on as the season progresses.

“We have great guys; we have Malik and Jaylon back,” Battas said, “but we have also six or seven other seniors like I said, have been in our program for four years. Guys like Grayson Slagle and Matt Stopka that may have not gotten a lot of varsity time, but they really know how to practice and they know how to compete. So so far, so good.”

The Tigers lost top players Jack Marinko and Caleb Strohmeier to graduation, but have the players who are ready to step up,

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‘We do,’ Battas said. “We return Malik and Tuggle, who’ve got a lot of varsity experience, and after that, we’ll have six or seven other seniors who have a chance to play for us. We’ve also got a couple of football guys (Lavontas Hairston and Ethan Young) that aren’t quite here yet, including a couple of juniors that’ll have a chance to play for us as well. So like I said, it’s a good mix of guys, and it’s competitive, because there is some playing time available, and there’s some things we’re trying to figure out here these first couple of weeks before we head over to Ladue.

“But, yeah, we do have to replace Jack, and that’s tough,” Battas also said, “and Caleb and R.J. (Wilson), but we’ve got a really good group of guys, and we had a good summer, and so we’ve just kind of hit the ground running since practice started.”

The schedule is always a very good one, with the Southwestern Conference teams home and home, including defending Class 4A champion Belleville West. The Maroons’ win in overtime over Chicago Whitney Young in the final was a big boost for large school basketball in all of southern Illinois.

“Yeah, incredible. I’m really happy for Joe (Muniz, the West head coach), and Belleville West and for our conference,” Battas said. “Coach Waldo, we’ve been up there quite a few times with him, fortunately, but to go up there and win the state championship is really special. And they do represent us, because the way the regional and sectional’s organized, we’re always going to get one shot. I think there have been some years in the past where we’ve made it up there, that there’s been another really good team in our league, which is the way the postseason is organized; you don’t both get to go to Peoria. So for Joe to represent us, and Belleville West to represent us was terrific.

“And now, we’ve got to figure out a way to play against the state champs,” Battas also said with a smile, “with everybody back for the most part, and obviously, coach Muniz does a really good job with them. Our guys look forward to that; we take a lot of pride in how we practice, and we like competing. So we look forward to competing against them, and seeing what we can do.”

The outlook is very positive for the Tigers, who always work hard and do good things on the floor.

“Well, like I said, we have good guys, and they’re good teammates,” Battas said, “and they practice, and I think you always have a chance when you do that. Everyone wants to ask us who are tall guys are; they go into our gym and say ‘we don’t see anybody who’s over 6’ 4”,’ but we have a lot of guys, like I said, play together, they play hard and they compete. And we’ve got some smart guys. When you do that, you’ll always have a chance. We’re really looking forward to working with our guys.”

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Dan Brannan also contributed to this story

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