By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
While Branson finished with an 8-18 record last season, second-year head coach Mike Linehan felt his team was very competitive.
“We went 8-18, but we we ahead in several games which, ultimately, ended up being losses,” Linehan said. “Our challenge was finishing games. I felt as though we were scared to lose, instead of playing to win with confidence and poise.”
A quintet of graduated seniors depart the program, including Michael Allison, Zach Johnson, Cameron Banks, Nick Pead and Collin Pepper.
While the five graduates accounted for just under 50 percent of the team’s offense, Branson returns its leading scorer 5-foot-8 senior and all-district selection Trey Benard (18.2 ppg, 2 rpg, 2 apg, 2 spg).
Benard is joined by 5-foot-10 junior D’Shawn Craigg (2.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg), 5-foot-10 junior Gabe Sylvester (6.1 ppg), 6-foot senior Aaron Whited (3 ppg), 6-foot senior J.T. Hale (2 ppg), 6-foot-3 senior Kyler Efird, 6-foot-4 senior Britt Pierce and 6-foot junior Aden Arnette.
Freshman Ethan Jones will have the potential to compete for varsity minutes this season, as well, according to Linehan.
While the Pirates enter the season with a somewhat undersized roster, Linehan believes it can work to the team’s advantage.
“We are not very big, but I like our speed and quickness,” Linehan said. “If we move the ball unselfishly, we will be very hard to stop, especially if guys like Trey Benard, Aaron Whited, JT Hale and Gabe Sylvester are hitting. We are putting a lot of attention into our defense as we must be able to stop teams with tremendous size advantages. We plan to use our speed and work as a team to take away the size mismatches.”
Utilizing that speed to create easy buckets will be a key factor in Branson’s outlook.
“Our biggest X-factor is probably our ability to break people down off the dribble,” Linehan said, “If we can get to the paint often and get many layup opportunities each game, we will be a hard team to beat.”
For Branson to be successful, it must navigate a difficult conference and district schedule including the likes of Parkview, Joplin, Ozark, Nixa and Republic.
Linehan feels his team is up to the challenge.
“We are aiming at improving our record from last season tremendously,” Linehan said, “The team is hungry to win games and has been working hard in the off-season. Our conference is always tough and will be a challenge each night, but we are capable of competing with everyone on our schedule this year. I foresee the district being very strong from top to bottom again this season.”
Following a Nov. 16 jamboree with Reeds Spring and Hollister, Branson tips off its season Nov. 20 against Harrison, Ark.