By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The names may change, but the results do not.
The Hartville Eagles enter the 2019-20 season seeking their eighth straight district championship.
Hartville has also won 20 or more games each season during its district-title streak, including a state championship in 2016.
“I think we have a chance to be pretty good again this season,” said Hartville coach Brett Reed, who enters his eighth season at the school. “We have most of our core players back. I am hoping we can take that next step and advance further in the playoffs.”
Hartville pushed eventual Class 2 state champion Greenwood to the brink in sectionals, falling 73-71. The Eagles finished 22-7 overall.
“Our goal every year is to win a state championship,” Reed said. “However, right now we are focusing on getting back to the final four, where we have been.”
Hartville welcomes back all but one player from its 2018-19 squad. The Eagles, as usual, will be guard-oriented and put a priority on defense.
Junior guard Ryce Piper (6’2”) leads the returning starters. The all-conference selection averaged 15 points, five rebounds and three assists per game as a sophomore.
“He’s a very complete player who can hurt you in a variety of ways and defends well,” Reed said.
Also back is junior guard Eli Cook, who averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game last season.
“He’s a sparkplug defensively and has improved as a shooter and attacker,” Reed said. “We look for him to have a breakout year.”
Hartville brings back a wealth of depth at guard and forward. Senior Holton Simmons and juniors Brady Ward, Cody Mahan and Braden Branstetter all averaged between 5-9 points per game last season.
“Holton’s a quick guard who can shoot, attack and defend. He’s one of our best on-ball defenders,” Reed said. “Brady’s an athletic guard who can really shoot. He does a great job on the boards and guards well in the paint.”
Mahan and Branstetter are part of a strong junior class that made significant strides as sophomores.
“Braden’s a very good shooter who has improved defensively and in his all-around game,” Reed said. “Cody’s also one of our best defenders.”
Juniors Dalton O’Dell and Bryce Coday along with sophomore Eric Wilson round out Hartville’s returning varsity players.
“I expect us to be a solid team defensively and on the glass this season,” Reed said. “I thought we took huge strides there last season, and I’m hoping we can become a top-tier defensive team this season.”
Hartville graduated just one senior: guard Wyatt Mahan.
“We will miss his ball-handling and shooting,” Reed said.
Varsity newcomers include the junior trio of Wyatt Williams and 6’2” forwards Josh Bettendorf and Josiah Bettendorf.
“Wyatt provides depth at the guard spot and is a capable shooter,” Reed said. “(Josh and Josiah) are athletic forwards who can help us defensively and with rebounding.”
Hartville also picks up a transfer in 6’3” freshman forward Brody McNiel, who previously attended Plato.
“He brings some needed height into our program,” Reed said. “He can shoot and finish well inside. As he improves, he could play some varsity minutes.”
The Eagles have strengthened their non-conference schedule, which will include games against Dora, Strafford, Fair Grove and Nixa, among others.
“We hope our schedule will prepare us for the postseason,” Reed said. “We will need to be prepared to compete at a high level each night.”
Hartville opens the regular season Nov. 26 at Bradleyville.