By Derek Shore
The Aurora Houn’ Dawgs concluded their terrific 2015-16 campaign on a disappointing note, finishing three points shy of claiming their first district title since 2008-09.
Aurora (19-10 overall) fell victim to a game-saving, half-court shot at the buzzer by Glendale that sent the game into double-overtime, where the Houn’s eventually lost 68-66.
Now, Aurora will have to replace the bulk of its scoring in the absence of graduating seniors Logan Bader, Austin Carmichael, Josh Fronabarger, Mason Hussman and Billy Meredith; a total of nine lettermen lost in all.
Bader, a 6-foot-6 small forward received first team All-Big 8 honors and is now playing collegiately at Millikin University.
Sixth-year head coach Daniel Cutbirth is ready for the challenge that awaits.
“I am excited about the 2016-17 basketball season with new faces, players, and personalities that make up a new varsity roster,” Cutbirth said. “We have a great group of young men that all have something to prove and they all have one goal common, and that’s to be successful as a team.”
Aurora will return only two starters and five lettermen. Devon Hilton, a 6-foot senior point guard, is Aurora’s top returning scorer after averaging about eight points, three rebounds and 2.5 assists over 29 games as a junior.
“Dev has run the point for us the last two seasons,” Cutbirth said. “He has become a very good defender and rebounder from the point guard position. Devon stepped his game up last year and became a great scoring threat as well as a consistent shooter for us.”
The other returning starter, senior Preston Naylor will have a more prominent role this season for the Houn’ Dawgs. Naylor, a 6-foot-3, senior post, scored six points per game while grabbing six boards. Cutbirth said the eleven games he started last season – the big man never looked back.
“Preston is a hard-nosed kid, who plays hard and does all the little things it takes to be successful,” he also said. “Preston is a great offensive rebounder and a great rim-finisher.”
Among other returnees, Cutbirth noted senior Zac Shoemaker and juniors Matthew Miller and Clayton Dunning.
Shoemaker, a 6-foot-4, athletic post player, is described as a player, who can shoot the three and score down low as well as rebound and defend. Miller, standing at 6-foot-3, is said to be a multi-threat scorer and has worked to become a complete player. Dunning, standing at 6-foot-3, missed most of the last season with a broken arm suffered in football. His coach views him as a slasher, wing defender from the guard spot.
In addition, Cutbirth listed a whopping 11 newcomers, who are expected to vie for varsity time. Those include seniors Justis Mooneyham (6-foot-0, a blue-collar player) and Kaleb Baker (6-foot-1, a great defender and shooter at guard), including juniors Austin Erickson (6-foot-2, a great shooter with improving ball-handling and defensive skills) and Jeremiah Fisher (transfer from Cassville, who is also a guard).
The sophomore class includes Kaden Clark (6-foot-4, a big, athletic kid with upside, who could be a valuable asset to varsity) and Casey Weathermon (6-foot-0, a slasher with ball handling skills). Other sophomores are Ben Carvale (6-foot-0, a proficient shooter and scorer, who will push for varsity time), Jess Williams (6-foot-1), Austin Hartwigsen (6-foot-1), and Kolby Cobb (5-foot-10).
“I think what makes it fun (with a whole new team) to see which one of these men will step up and fill the void for us,” Cutbirth said of this upcoming season. “Even though there are lots of unknowns, I like the challenge in front of us.
“I feel like it’s going to be a fun learning experience for me, my coaching staff, and for our players to watch them grow and develop as the season progresses.”
As far as the schedule, the Houn Dawgs will participate in the prestigious Blue and Gold Tourney again as well as the Nixa Shootout.
“Both tourneys will be great tests for us to see exactly where we are at in terms of offensive and defensive action,” Cutbirth added. “These will also be good preps before our district play begins.”
Aurora opens the season on the road against Neosho on Nov. 22. The first home game is slated for Dec. 9 against Bolivar.
“As a coach, I’m always focused on what Aurora is doing and how we are executing plays,” Cutbirth said. “I want my players to be successful on and off the court. I expect their best at practices and games.”