By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Gone is the Class of 2017, led by all-state guards Dune Piper and Deric Jones, that was responsible for 105 wins, four Summit Conference and district championships, as well as the program’s only state championship.
“Those two guys, as well as the entire senior class, were an integral part of our success over the last four years,” said Hartville head coach Brett Reed. “Beyond those achievements, they were great leaders for our underclassmen. They went about their business the right way, worked hard every day and believed in the program over self mentality. They were special and will be missed, but will not be forgotten.”
Reed, entering his seventh season at Hartville, is tasked with rebuilding a program that has won 20 games in five straight seasons and whose only home loss since 2012 came against Class 5 Nixa.
Coming off of last year’s Elite Eight loss to eventual Class 2 state champion Oran, Reed believes this group is eager to help atone for that setback.
“That loss will always hurt; we feel like we let one slip away that we could have won,” said Reed. “However, this is a new year with new faces. We are working on being the best team we can be this year and not dwelling on the past.
“With that being said, we won’t ever forget how we lost that game and the pain we went through after the realization that our season was over. It will drive us to work harder every day.”
Just one starter returns from last year’s team, senior Wyatt Ward.
The 6-foot-3 forward is the team’s returning leading scorer (11 PPG in 2016-17). He will likely be asked to take on an even bigger scoring role with the team losing more than 75 percent of its scoring from last season.
“Wyatt had a great summer for us,” said Reed. “The main thing I see from him is that he has been a great leader for these younger kids. He knows he needs them to contribute for us to be successful, and he has done a great job encouraging them this offseason.”
Known for its dominance using small ball, 6-foot-8 senior Cody Kelley should become more of a focal point on both ends of the floor.
Sophomore guard Holton Simmons gives Hartville a great ball handler and defender with a scoring mentality.
From there, it’ll be a lot of fresh faces and inexperience.
Transfer Evan Matthews will have a chance to make an immediate impact. His 6-foot-4 frame and athleticism will give the Eagles another interior presence.
Hartville will also lean heavily on an incoming freshman class that went 30-2 in junior high and have been around the varsity program for several years.
“From a skill standpoint they are ready to compete at the varsity level,” said Reed. “From a strength and athleticism standpoint they aren’t quite there yet.
“We will continue to work to get them there, but honestly it is just a waiting game for them to mature a little bit more physically. Ready or not, they will have to play some significant minutes for us this season.”
The roster may have undergone a facelift, but fans can expect to see the same physical, defensive-minded brand of basketball that has helped the Eagles become one of the most successful programs in Missouri over the last few years.
It’s that same philosophy that will be the key to Hartville’s season, especially with defending Class 1 state champ Walnut Grove, Class 4 Aurora and several marquee tournaments on the schedule.
“There will be some changes in the way we go about guarding people and what we are trying to achieve on offense, but our brand of basketball will stay the same,” said Reed. “We will preach defense and rebounding as our staple every night. If we can continue to win those battles, we will be successful.”
Hartville will open the 2017-18 season on Nov. 20 at home against New Covenant.