By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Carthage enters the 2019-20 campaign with a new face at the helm, as Nathan Morris replaces Steve Ray as head coach for the program.
Morris previously held junior varsity and freshman coaching positions with the Tigers.
“I’ve built a good relationship with this group while I was the freshman coach, and I moved up with them the past few years as the JV coach,” Morris said. “I saw this group gain a ton of good and bad varsity experience while only losing one senior from the team.”
Carthage finished with an 11-15 record last season, falling to Joplin in the district opener.
“We really struggled to finish games last year,” Morris said. “We lost four to five games that were under eight points, but also had four to five that looked worse in the box score by how we finished the fourth quarter. The inexperience of the team showed but hopefully all those lessons will benefit us this year.”
Something else that will certainly benefit Carthage this year is the return of four starters and nine lettermen, as Tucker Downing represents the lone senior lost to graduation.
“Our core group of four seniors really needs to take leadership of this team,” Morris said. “Our lone senior was left with a heavy burden last year, and he did his best to lead our team with his tough, gritty play.”
This season, Carthage will be led by leading scorer Alex Martini (13.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 1.1 spg).
Martini finished his junior campaign with both all-conference and all-district honors. The 6-foot-7 forward has been offered by Missouri Western University and the Air Force Academy.
“Alex will break the all-time school rebound record and is on pace to break 1,000 pts for his career,” Morris said. “Physically, Alex had an amazing summer. He’s put on some muscle, which allows him to play more aggressive and effectively. He’s got the ability to post smaller big men and stretch out taller guys.”
Martini is joined by classmates Marcus Huntley (10.7 ppg), Taris Jackson (9.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.0 spg) and Tyler Mueller.
“[Huntley is one of the quickest guards with the basketball in SWMO,” Morris said. “He also has the ability to go on a run of three to four 3-pointers, consecutively. Taris started all 26 games last year for us as our point guard. He also made the most 3-pointers on our team and was second in free throw attempts.”
Carthage also returns a quintet of additional lettermen in sophomore Joel Pugh, junior Morgan Frisinger, sophomore Caden Kabance, junior Patrick Carlton and senior Oscar Campa.
Morris believes his team has the right mix of weapons and playmakers to score efficiently and effectively on a nightly basis.
“This group has a chance to be an extremely effective scoring team from anywhere on the floor,” Morris said. “We’ve hovered right around 50 PPG that past few years and I think this could be a breakout group in that regard. We have some talented shooters in Marcus Huntley, Taris Jackson and Joel Pugh. Add that together with the ability of Alex Martini in the post — or stretched out to the wing with his length — and you have a solid, offensive team.”
For Carthage to enjoy a successful season and challenge for a postseason run, it must first deal with a difficult conference and district schedule.
“This group is extremely talented, and there is no ceiling for them as long as they continue to grow as a team and as people,” Morris said. “If they trust each other and this coaching staff, then we should be in the thick of it at the end of the season.”
Carthage opens its season Dec. 12 with the Carthage Invitational Tournament.