By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The basketball pipeline has been going strong in Mountain Grove.
The Panthers have made two straight final fours, behind a primarily young roster. Only four varsity players have graduated in that span: D.J. McNew (2016; all-state), Thomas Clifton (2016), Treye Collins (2017; all-state) and Brock Coffman (2017; first team all-conference).
On paper, the 2017-18 Panthers at least have the depth to make another postseason run.
“This team has a chance to be very deep,” said coach Duane Hiler. “Playing time will be very competitive with any of our top 10 players ready to play.
“If we continue to improve defensively and play together, we have a chance to have another good year.”
Mountain Grove finished 28-4 overall last season, losing to St. Louis Transportation and Law and Bishop Hogan in Columbia.
Hiler enters his 10th season at Mountain Grove. In recent years, he has helped build the Panthers into of the area’s most successful programs.
In addition to the two final fours, the Panthers haven’t lost an SCA game since the 2013-14 season.
If not for a stunning upset loss to No. 8 seed Hollister in the 2014-15 district opener, the Panthers may be chasing their fourth straight final four this winter.
Just five years ago (2012-13 season), the Panthers only won one game.
Despite losing all-staters McNew and Collins in the last two seasons, the Class 3 Panthers have plenty of talent returning.
Mountain Grove welcomes back three seniors who earned all-conference honors in 2016-17: Carter Otwell (13 points per game, 5 rebounds per game), Cade Coffman (13 ppg, 5 ppg) and Connor McNew (13 ppg, 4 rpg).
The trio, along with the graduated Collins and Brock Coffman, fueled one of the area’s most dynamic offenses last season. Mountain Grove averaged 72 points per game while limiting opponents to an average of 52.6 points.
Mountain Grove averaged 18 assists per game, led by Collins (7 apg). Brock Coffman (14 ppg, 8 rpg) served as the Panthers’ post player by default in a guard-heavy lineup.
Senior Gavin Veach (8 ppg, 4 rpg) played in all 32 games last season and, at 6’3”, is one of the Panthers’ tallest players.
“Carter, Cade, Connor and Gavin provide experience and excellent leadership as well as being good scoring threats,” Hiler said.
Two new names join the varsity rotation this year: 6’4” junior Dillon Massey and 5’10” senior Haden Newberry. Injuries hampered both last season.
Senior Patrick Lane and juniors Dillon Massey, Dawson Hiler, John Felker and Bryce Lauderdale are also in contention for varsity minutes.
“They should provide us with as much depth as we have ever had,” Hiler said.
Mtn. Grove opens the season Nov. 21 at Springfield Catholic. The Panthers also have tournament appearances at the Blue and Gold (Dec. 26-29), Seymour (Jan. 1-6) and their own home tournament (Jan. 22-27).