MONROE CITY, Mo.
It has been 25 years since the Monroe City boys basketball team has been to the state final four, and it was a long journey back for the Panthers.
Just a decade ago, Monroe City was coming off an 0-21 season and looking for a new head coach. That's when Brock Edris entered the picture, taking over as head coach prior to the 2011-12 season.
"We didn't win very many games my first couple of years coaching," Edris said. "So in a 10-year span, we go from winning zero games to 28 games right now and a final four berth. It was pretty special just to see how the program has developed and improved each year. It's a testament to our kids, the time they put in and the hard work and time the other coaches put in."
The Panthers only went 4-21 in Edris' first season and were 6-20 in his second season. However, Monroe City had its first winning season under Edris during the 2013-14 campaign, finishing 15-11.
The winning has continued since that third campaign. Edris is now the winningest coach in Monroe City history with 128 career victories under his belt.
Edris said the community has rallied behind the Monroe City boys basketball program.
"Really the last few years, with this being our fourth district title in a row, the fans (are) able to enjoy success," Edris said. "When you have great kids who are great teammates and role models for young kids, then you get young kids coming to games with their parents and getting involved. Because they like that their kids getting to see the type of kids we have in our program."
In the three seasons prior to 2019-20, Monroe City has won 24 games and the district title, but lost in the sectionals each year. Last season, the Panthers fell just short of advancing to the Class 3 state semifinals when they lost to St. Paul Lutheran 45-42 in the state sectionals.
It was a different story this season. Monroe City finished on the winning side of a close game, defeating Kansas City Central 43-41 in the state quarterfinals on Saturday.
Edris said that victory against the Blue Eagles meant so much given last year's result.
"To win that game (on Saturday against Kansas City Central) was a little emotional for our guys," Edris said. "I think there was a different confidence about them knowing that ‘OK, we are are going to get this done.' Having to travel all the way to Kansas City and you're one game away from (the final four), and you are going to have to play your best basketball to make it possible. I think our team was just overwhelmed by emotion after that game."
Monroe City was the smallest school in the elite eight of the Class 3 tournament, and on Saturday they were matched up against the biggest school in the bracket.
For Edris and the Panthers, it is a special feeling to see a smaller school like Monroe City compete with teams from Kansas City and St. Louis.
"We are just going to have to play some really good basketball to give ourselves a chance to make it in Class 3 … and our kids made it possible," Edris said. "To see all the odds stacked against us being a small town like Monroe City. Some of those city people (from Kansas City and St. Louis) have no idea where Monroe City is at. So the fact that our kids get to go to the final four and represent the community is pretty amazing."
Monroe City (28-2) will face Charleston (27-4) in the state semifinals on Friday at 6:20 p.m., with the winner moving on to the state championship game on Saturday.
Charleston is a perennial powerhouse and is playing in its third straight Class 3 state semifinals.
"For our kids, it will be new territory for us, but you punch your ticket and you play the game," Edris said. "When you get down there, anybody has a chance. They are going to be extremely athletic, but I think playing a team like Central out of Kansas City kind of prepared us for this game, so I think there will be a lot of similarities.
"It comes down to taking care of the basketball, playing team basketball and defending to give yourself a chance."