By Dana Harding
The Joplin Eagles look to turn around a 2015-16 campaign rife with challenges.
Plagued by injuries throughout the season, Joplin finished 3-23 and fell to Neosho in the opening round of the district tournament.
For head coach Jeffrey Hafer, entering his third year, there’s a silver lining heading into this season.
“Last year we were plagued by injury which had an impact on our win-loss record,” Hafer said. “It did, however, offer an opportunity for many of our younger players too get varsity basketball experience, which really helped us grow even through this past offseason.”
The Eagles lost a trio of players to graduation, including Alex Coffin, Carter Smith and Darrian Guillory, who has continued his basketball career at Pittsburg State University.
“Darrian was our MVP and team leader,” Hafer said. “His leadership, scoring and athleticism will be hard to replace in our program.”
Despite the losses to graduation, Joplin returns a host of seniors with valuable varsity experience.
Dineji Olaniyan, Malaki Love, Spencer Newell, Nate Cox, Koltyn Theilen and Logan Swadner give the Eagles a considerable amount of experience and leadership. Newell’s competitiveness and work ethic set the tone for the program, according to Hafer.
“Spencer brings a toughness to our team that will be necessary for us to compete in the Ozark conference,” Hafer said. “As a team captain, Spencer will be relied upon to be a floor leader and be the head of our defense. He will be the model of the defensive intensity that we want to be the pride of our program for years to come.”
Joplin will also benefit from three varsity newcomers.
Senior Tony Lewis, along with juniors Braeden Testerman and Hagen Hoffman will be expected to make immediate impacts at the varsity level.
“I am excited to be coaching my 3rd season of basketball at my alma mater, Joplin High School,” Hafer said. “We want to play an up-tempo, tough and physical brand of basketball that kid’s love to play and fan’s love to watch.”
For the team to enjoy a rebound season, it will need to continue building on successful summer and fall workouts.
“Our team competed very well throughout the summer and fall against excellent opponent’s from the 4-State area,” Hafer said. “I think we have a newfound confidence that will be instrumental in continuing our growth as a team and program.”
While Joplin won’t feature a great deal of size, Hafer feels the Eagles will more than make up for it speed.
“Our initial challenge will be too get into the physical condition we will need to be in to play the uptempo brand of basketball we have played most of the off-season,” Hafer said.” That uptempo style helps us alleviate the pressure of one of our other challenges, which is our lack of size. We have small, quick athletes that are capable of playing fast, and that will be instrumental to our success this year.”
Speed will be needed in an ultra-competitive Ozark Conference, and Hafer believes his team will be up to the challenge. Joplin will be looking for its first conference win in two seasons and first district victory in three.
“We have the privilege of competing in the Ozark conference and look forward to the different challenges we will face from our opponents this season,” Hafer said.
Joplin hosts a Nov. 18 jamboree with Neosho, East Newton and McDonald County.
The Eagles open the regular season Nov. 21 at home against McDonald County.