By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last winter was a special one for Blue Eye High School and the community, one that saw the boys and girls win district basketball championships in the same season for the first time.
The Bulldogs fell to Purdy in sectionals to finish the season 21-6, but just that first sniff of the state tournament since 2009 was enough to have the boys eager to get back on the court all summer.
“They’ve been pretty excited coming off of last season,” head coach Kyle Turner said. “They got a little taste of winning and liked it, so they’ve been very open as we’ve encouraged them to put in time on their own and work on their individual.”
Blue Eye’s success was largely due to defense as they gave up the fewest points per night (49.1) of any SWCL team. Turner believes the Bulldogs could have that same ability to disrupt the offense this winter, but, like every team, the early-season learning curve will make things interesting.
Two all-conference selections, Ryan Reagan and Brenna Fairchild, walked across the graduation stage after last season. Three seniors are back in the fold this year, starting with College of the Ozarks commit Andrew Mitchell. He was an All-State honoree as a junior after leading the Bulldogs in points (18.1) and rebounds (5.5) per night.
Reagan and Fairchild were the next two highest scorers, while Reagan had run the offense for the past three years. Junior Nathan Garnett will likely assume that role as he comes off a season where he notched 10.5 points per night.
His defensive prowess will be just as important, but the acclimation to a new point guard role could hold the primary key to late-season success.
“Just getting used to playing together will be the biggest adjustment,” said Turner. “We have a chance to be pretty long and athletic, and (Garnett) is a part of that. He did a great job over the summer.”
A talented crop of juniors will also be a vital part to Blue Eye continuing its upward trend. Guard Ethan Webb is another good defender and will get more touches alongside fellow juniors Jake Reagan and Ethan Pace.
Hayden Forrester is one of the more exciting prospects at 6’5”. He played just one junior varsity game as a sophomore due to a broken foot and torn ACL, but showed promise in his limited opportunities. With that frame, he could be one of the most disruptive post presences in the SWCL.
Senior Chase McLenathan will join him in the paint for a taste of his first consistent varsity time. He will be another important cog in the defensive and rebounding efforts as his offensive prowess continues to grow.
Freshmen Isaiah Mitchell and Lance Clark could also fight for minutes while Chris Lemp will return for his senior campaign after taking a break from basketball for several years.
The Bulldogs have managed to avoid a sub-.500 campaign in the six years since Turner took over despite dealing with solid conference opponents like Crane, Clever, and Forsyth on an annual basis. This year is no different if the new pieces can gel sooner rather than later.
“We feel like we’ll have an opportunity to compete every night and whether we can win those games late in the year is going to be determined by how well they can come together.”