By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It’s tough to top the season the Licking Wildcats had last year. Licking finished with a 24-5 mark and took first place in the Frisco Conference with a 7-1 league mark. After topping Clearwater (74-41) and Willow Springs (61-45) in the first two rounds of districts, the Wildcats fell to Mountain Grove (59-54) in the district championship game.
Of its eight varsity players from last season, Licking only returns one this year. Needless to say, playing time is up for grabs.
The lone returner for the Wildcats is junior guard Wilson Murray, who was the point guard last year. Murray averaged 6.9 points, 5.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.1 steals. He’ll step into more of a scoring role this season.
“Wilson’s role will be expanded to help lead, facilitate, and become more of a scoring guard for the Wildcats this year,” noted first-year coach Jess Ross.
Licking will need production from its group of returners that includes seniors Blake Payne and Levi Cantrell, juniors Kaleb Keaton and Landon Medlock, and sophomores JB Huff and Conner McLeod.
“Blake’s role is pivotal for our success,” stated Ross. “He works well around the basket and will step out and be capable of shooting it from 3 to help stretch the defense. Levi is a strong athletic player that will hopefully instill in his teammates the grit it takes to defend the length of the floor. He’s a player that others will follow through his example and work ethic.”
Keaton and Medlock should help provide some depth in the backcourt for the Wildcats.
“Kaleb is a deceptive guard that has improved in all areas of the game,” Ross said. “He’s a great rebounder on both ends of the floor and has become a proficient shooter. Landon will stretch defenses with his ability to shoot the 3. With strength development, he will continue to improve every day.
Huff will be counted on to rebound and utilize his athleticism inside, while McLeod is still developing. He’ll provide some depth inside and out for Licking this winter.
Other newcomers to the team include junior transfer Bryce Corely from Rolla and freshmen Malichi Antle and Cole Wallace.
“People are thinking this will be a down year for our program because we only have one returning varsity player, but we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Murray said. “Coach Ross has been around the game for a long time and has a completely new style of play that fits our team well.”
Even though Licking features a lot of players that are unproven, the potential is there for a solid year.
“We have the pieces to be a pretty good team if they come together under a completely new system,” Ross said. “As a staff, the goal is to implement a program that will benefit each player’s unique ability within the team concept. We are going to start defensively and build from there. We believe we will be ready to compete against anyone when the time comes.”