By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After an interesting season last year, the Waynesville Tigers will be an intriguing team to follow this winter.
Before last year began, the Tigers looked like they’d be tough to handle. But an injury to their top player, Carson Cavalier, quickly changed the landscape of the season.
“Carson probably would have been an All-Conference player,” veteran coach Chris Pilz said. “He would’ve averaged maybe 22 or 25 points a game. Instead, he missed most of the year and played the last six games on half a leg.”
Waynesville regrouped without Cavalier but finished the year 12-12. An overtime loss to Lebanon in the opening round of districts ended their year.
“We really had a successful season without him,” Pilz noted. “We had four seniors that played a bunch, and then we had four or five underclassmen that chipped in. We had several injuries and had to play a lot of young guys, but it really was a good year.”
This year, Waynesville will feature a mix of varsity returners and newcomers from a JV squad that lost only one game last year. Among the returners are Shen Butler-Lawson, Mike Lewis, and Jared Hyatt – three key players for the Waynesville football team.
Butler-Lawson, who stands 6-foot and 195 pounds, is the starting tailback on the football team and is getting looks from D-I teams for his play there. On the court, he’s a hard-nosed player and quick.
Lewis, at 5-foot-7, missed the last 10 games last year due to injury but was the team’s primary point guard for most of the year. He’s the quarterback on the football team.
Hyatt, who stands 6-foot-3, was a really good sophomore for the Tigers last year and is a tight end on the football team. “He should be a big lift for us this year,” Pilz added.
Another key player for the Tigers will be 6-foot-3 junior Eric Morris, who missed the end of his sophomore season with an injury. “He’ll be a kid I think that will surprise some people,” Pilz predicted. “He’s back to playing at a high level for the first time since his injury.”
Waynesville also brings back Hunter Poole, Hunter O’Neil, and Avant Hill, and Zane McArthur, who all got a cup of coffee at the varsity level last year. Pilz singled out Hill as one of the team’s better defenders. Freshman Shawn Barber could contribute at the varsity level towards the end of the season, Pilz noted.
“There’s four or five that played quite a bit of varsity last year,” Pilz said. “The guys come up only lost one game last year at JV. They were really competitive.”
With a strong mix of returners and newcomers, practice has been fun.
“They really get after it,” Pilz said. “You will like to watch them because they play hard and compete.”
This year’s team may not have the lofty preseason hopes of last year’s bunch, but with their combination of athleticism, youth, and experience, they could surprise a lot of people in the Ozark Conference.