By Dana Harding
For head coach Ryan Stokes, the rebuild at Miller continues.
Now in the second season of his second stint with the Cardinals, Stokes looks to improve upon last season’s 3-23 record. Miller ended the year with a loss to Pierce City in the opening round of districts.
To improve, the Cardinals must first replace four departed starters from last year’s squad.
Jordan Butterfield and Dylan Hill have both graduated, Cade Gunter moved out of state and Eric Erickson decided to focus on a future career in farming.
Butterfield’s contributions, in particular, will be missed. The all-conference player was responsible for nearly 80 percentof Miller’s scoring last season, according to Stokes.
Leading the way for the Cardinals is Stokes’ lone returning starter, sophomore Devin Demster.
“[Devin] got better and better as the year went on and I expect him to be one of our top players this year,” Stokes said. “He led the team in blocks at 3 per game and, with all the work he has done this off-season, he should be one of our leading scorers.”
Demster is joined by a pair returning lettermen in junior James Jeffers and senior Cory Parnell.
“James is one of those guys that does whatever you tell him,” Stokes said. “I love having him on my team. If Cory can learn from last year and work at doing the little things right, he might be the difference our team being average or really good by the end of the season.”
As with Demster last season, Stokes will again rely on a talented crop of freshmen. Nick Johnson, Neilson Hadlock, Garrett Rollett, Kaul Kleeman, Shaun Edwards and Preston Richardson will all add depth to the Miller roster and compete for varsity minutes.
With a young and inexperienced lineup, Stokes realizes there will be some early obstacles, but feels his team will be up for the challenge.
“I am very excited about the coming season and the future of Miller basketball,” Stokes said. “We have a lot of young kids that will need to grow up very quick. I expect a lot of my incoming freshman to have the opportunity to contribute to the success of the team.”
For Miller to be successful and improve this season, both young and veteran players will need to lower last season’s point differential. As a team, Miller averaged 36 points per contest and surrendered 68 in a tough Spring River Valley Conference including Diamond, Greenfield, Lockwood and Pierce City, among others.
“I know there will be some growing pains this year, but if we can get them out of the way early we could be a very tough team to play come districts,” Stokes said.
Miller opens up the season Nov. 28 in the Marionville Invitational Tournament.