By Derek Shore (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Safe to say the McDonald County Mustangs will field a new-look squad for the 2016-17 season.
In fact, they return minimal varsity experience, losing seven key lettermen who led the Mustangs to a 21-6 overall record last year en route to a perfect 8-0 Big 8 record and first conference title since being a non-independent school (last was nearly two decades ago).
That group of graduating seniors was headlined by Big 8 Player of the Year Daton Aubrey and Drew Harmon, a first team all-conference honoree. McDonald County also loses second team all-conference shooting guard Max Dill and all-conference honorable mention forward Kole Keith to graduation.
Who will help replace 56.3 points of production last year?
Enter new head coach Kyle Fields, a once assistant coach under former head coach Trent Barratt.
Fields, rejoins Mustang faithful after a four-year head coaching stint with East Newton, helping the Patriots to a district title over Lamar this past season.
“All of the players that graduated we will miss greatly,” said Fields. “They were a very good bunch of kids. They’re leadership, athleticism, and competitiveness is what our program will miss early.”
McDonald County is hoping to have a collective contribution from a number of different players, including a class of four seniors, six juniors, and two sophomores to fill the void of the production lost.
Among the senior class includes Brandon McAdams (5-foot-10), Sergio Dozal (5-foot-8), Noah Jones (5-foot-9), and Devon Aubrey (6-foot-3). Devon is the younger brother of graduating senior Daton.
“Brandon is a quick left-handed guard, who can score and has good touch,” Fields said. “Sergio is another quick left-handed guard, but can handle the ball and get out and guard.
Noah is a strong guard, who can play inside and out. Devon is a strong post player, who will help us inside with post defense and rebounding. He can also score down low.”
The plethora of juniors includes Cole Delansantos (6-foot-2), Rustan Lett (5-foot-9), Drew Landers (6-foot-2), Grant Cooper (6-foot-2), Payton Barton (6-foot-1), and Bucky Harrell (6-foot-0).
“Cole is a mobile post, who has a good motor,” Fields said. “He’s a good rebounder and defender. Rustan is a good guard that will help us on both ends of the floor this year. Drew is a tall, lengthy post player, who can step and give us some options from the perimeter.
“Grant is a good, strong post player, who will help us on the glass. He can post up and play on the perimeter. Payton is a quick, lengthy guard, who has good touch on the perimeter and can put the ball on the floor. Bucky is a good post player. He will be an asset with his smarts and ability to rebound and guard.”
The sophomores include Cooper Reece (6-foot-4) and Boston O’Dowd (5-foot-10). Reece was described as a post player, who can step out and hit perimeter shots. His length will give the Mustangs options on both ends of the floor. O’Dowd, a lengthy guard, will contribute thanks to his head, ball handling, and guard skills.
Fields said his new team, who will have to acclimate at the varsity level on the fly, will play in a stiff Big 8 Conference and district that includes the likes of Carl Junction, Webb City, Cassville, Aurora, and Monett.
“My outlook on this season is that we are a young team in a new system,” Fields said. “We will need to make sure our goal is to improve every day. We are excited about the upcoming season and the potential of our team, but we will need to keep a positive frame of mind and continue to get better.
“If we do these things, we have a chance to be a contender at the end of the year.”