By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A wake-up call came early in the 2018-2019 season and the Blue Eye Bulldogs answered that call.
“After starting the season 0-2 with losses to two quality teams in New Covenant Academy and Forsyth, we realized we weren’t playing with enough effort and focus on both ends of the court,” head coach Kyle Turner said. “Following our first-round loss against Forsyth, we won our next seven games going into Christmas.”
And, the Bulldogs went on to finish the season with a 20-7 overall record, going 6-1 in the Southwest Central League, before falling to eventual Class 2 state champion Greenwood in the Class 2 District 10 championship game.
Two keys to that success were Andrew Mitchell and Chase McClenathan.
Mitchell, a two-time Class 2 all-state selection, an all-district pick, and the SWCL and Tri-Lakes Area most valuable player, is now playing basketball at College of the Ozarks. He averaged 18 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1 block per game, and ended with 1,819 points for his career.
“No one person will replace what Andrew gave us on game nights, but what will be missed the most was the example he set with his consistency both on and off the floor,” Turner said. “Chase McClenathan was the starting center last year who was a great teammate, and his inside presence will be missed.”
Turner, who enters his eighth season as the head coach, has a strong core group returning in Nathan Garnett, Jake Reagan, Hayden Forester and Lance Clark.
Garnett, a 5-8 senior, was an all-district pick and a first-team all-conference last season. He averaged 15 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game. Garnett currently sits at 736 career points and could pass 1,000 for his career this season.
“Nathan had a great junior year and has continued to expand his game this summer on both sides of the ball,” Turner said. “He is a great competitor who can impact the game on both sides of the ball. Nathan has really shown great leadership both on and off the court this offseason.”
Reagan, a 6-2 senior, was an all-conference honorable mention selection, and averaged 11 PPG, led the team in rebounding with 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG and 1.8 SPG. “Jake is a versatile player who we’re looking to continue to expand his role again this season,” Turner said.
Forester is a 6-7 senior who averaged 6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1 APG and 1 SPG last season. “After coming off the bench last season, we’re looking for Hayden to take a larger role on both ends of the floor this season,” Turner said.
Clark, a 6-0 sophomore, averaged 2 PPG, 2 RPG, 1 APG and 1 SPG last year. “Lance is a hardnosed defender who plays with a contagious energy,” Turner said. “He has really worked this offseason to expand his game offensively.”
Turner feels this experience will be one of his team’s biggest strengths.
“We are returning two starters (both were all-conference players), and our 6th and 7th man from last year’s 20-win season,” Turner said. “We’re hoping the experience we gained from last season will help set the tone for this season as well.”
He will be looking for newcomers Ethan Pace, Isaiah Mitchell, Ryan Cardenzana and Lucas Estes to contribute this season.
Pace, a 6-5 senior: “Showed some really promising improvement this summer in the post; has a great feel for the game offensively.”
Mitchell, a 6-3 sophomore: “Versatile player who will compete for playing time. Isaiah has really worked to expand his role on both sides of the ball this offseason.”
Cardenzana, a 5-3 sophomore: “Point guard who’s really worked to improve his offensive skills this offseason.”
Estes, a 5-9 sophomore: “Will compete for playing time at the guard spot.”
“We are very excited about the upcoming season and are looking to improve on the experience both our players and our coaching staff gained from last season,” Turner said. “Our success this season will again depend on how much we come together and develop both individually and as a team.”
The Bulldogs open the season on the road at New Covenant on Nov. 26.
“Our philosophy will remain the same: no excuses, work hard in everything we do while focusing on the process, not the result, and putting the team above the individual,” Turner said. “We will focus on effort and competing on both ends of the floor, trying to improve on a daily basis.”