By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Rarely is it difficult to find motivation in sports. For Blue Eye entering the 2017-18 season, that motivation will come in the form of redemption.
Last year the Bulldogs, saddled with inexperience, won seven of their last nine games entering districts – earning the No. 3 seed – only to be upset by SWCL rival Billings in the opening round.
Blue Eye beat Billings by 20 just three weeks prior to districts. The 60-55 district defeat was Blue Eye’s seventh loss of the season by seven points or fewer.
“It is our hope that those close losses were just growing pains,” said Blue Eye head coach Kyle Turner. “We made a lot of good strides last season but didn’t finish as strong as we would have liked. I think we learned a lot from our experience last season that has motivated us for this season.”
On paper, Blue Eye will be one of the top Class 2 teams in the Ozarks this season after returning four starters and nine total lettermen from a 16-win team.
That includes First-Team All-SWCL selection Andrew Mitchell. The 6-foot-5 junior is Blue Eye’s returning leader in scoring (16.2 PPG) and rebounding (4.8 RPG), as well as 3-point FGs, blocks and steals.
“My expectations for Andrew have been high since his freshman year and this season is no different,” said Turner. “Because of the amount of time Andrew puts into his game he is expected to do a lot on offense, this season we are challenging him to make that same impact on the defensive end.”
Also back are returning All-SWCL picks Ryan Reagan (11.6 points, 4.6 assists) and Brennen Fairchild (10.6 points, 4 rebounds).
The senior guards can not only shoot the three, but do a little bit of everything for Turner. They’ll be counted on to take an even bigger role this winter.
“Ryan had a good summer and has continued to improve his shot and decision making,” said Turner. “Brennen has put in more work this offseason than any other previous year, I look for him to have a big year again. We are also challenging Ryan and Brennen to have a greater impact defensively.”
Junior Nathan Garnett channeled his inner Kevin Garnett last year, becoming one of the best defenders in the SWCL. That will again be his M.O. this season.
Senior Jacob Crouthamel will be counted on to produce on both ends of the floor, using his length and athleticism to give the Bulldogs an active presence at the rim. Fellow seniors Ryan Linscott and Matt McDonald will be gritty glue players for Turner after a solid summer of improvement.
Sophomores Ethan Webb and Jake Reagan will be looked on to provide backcourt depth. Both players saw varsity time as freshmen.
Blue Eye has been .500 or better in each of Turner’s first five seasons.
In a loaded district, with half of the teams being from the SWCL, it’ll likely take multiple wins over programs like Crane and Billings for the Bulldogs to claim conference and district titles. For that to happen, Turner believes his team will have to be focused, especially defensively, to reach its goals.
“We are going to have to continue to share the ball offensively and show an improvement on the defensive end if we want to give ourselves a chance to beat the best teams on our schedule,” said Turner. “It takes consistent focus on both ends of the floor each and every night. There are no nights off in our conference with so many quality players and coaches.”
Blue Eye will open the 2017-18 season on Nov. 21 at New Covenant.