By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Marion C. Early Panthers struggled to a 2-23 record last season, but second-year coach Jonathan Winslow is confident his Panthers have better days in front of them.
“Last year was a difficult season record-wise,” Winslow said. “We did get a lot of varsity playing time for underclassmen, which should be helpful for us this season.”
The Panthers went 2-23 overall and 0-7 in the Summit Conference, which included a first-round loss to Skyline in the Class 2 District 10 Tournament.
Lost from last year’s squad include Ben Presley and Oscar Stephens. But Winslow has five key returnees to work with this year.
• Justin McMillen – senior guard – Averaged 14.1 ppg, 2.8 apg, 7.3 rpg, 1.8 spg; was named All-Summit Conference and all-district last year; has a chance to get to 1,000 career points this season. “Good well-rounded player; can defend, rebound, score both inside and out. Expect him to provide leadership for our young group.”
• Jordan Parnell – senior forward – Averaged 4.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg; “Lots of energy, rebounding and defense.”
• Dylan Blehm – sophomore guard – Averaged 7.5 ppg; “Played a lot of minutes as a freshman, was our second-leading scorer last year, good outside shooter who will be able to contribute in a lot of areas this year.”
• Austin Francka – junior guard – “Very quick, athletic player who started a lot of games as a sophomore; coming back from a broken kneecap at the end of last year; should provide solid defense and ballhandling.”
• Garret Trantham – sophomore guard – “Improved a lot during his freshman season; played more varsity toward the end of the year; has improved his shooting and has a chance to give us a lot this year.”
“I think we will be much-improved from last year,” Winslow said. “We will still be playing several freshmen and sophomores, and our success will depend on how quickly they adapt to varsity roles.
“The most obvious challenge will be our youth. I think we will show a lot of improvement as the season progresses. Defending in the half-court and rebounding will be the two areas I think we will have to work at to improve.”
And, those newcomers Winslow will be looking to, include:
• Victor Duchscherer – junior forward – “Athletic kid who can rebound and defend; should be able to contribute.”
• Sam Maas – sophomore post – “Big kid who works extremely hard; should provide some size inside on both ends of the floor.”
• Josh McMillen – freshman guard – “Very athletic guard who will step in and contribute immediately.”
• Hadan Madewell – freshman guard – “Another talented freshman who shoots the ball well; should have a chance to contribute immediately.”
• John Presley – sophomore post – “A kid with good size who has a chance to help inside as a sophomore.”
• Waylon Mitchell – sophomore guard – “Athletic, quick kid who could contribute defensively on the varsity level.”
“I think one of our biggest strengths is our speed and quickness,” Winslow said. “Another area of strength should be our offensive abilities. We will try to utilize our speed and quickness by pressuring the ball defensively and trying to attack in transition.”
The Panthers open the season in the Fordland Tournament on Nov. 26.
“I think we should be very competitive,” Winslow said. “I expect us to work hard every day in practice, to be in great condition and never stop competing every time we are on the floor. Our conference race starts with Mansfield and Hartville and, from top to bottom, the conference is pretty solid. I think we have a chance to be competitive in the middle of the conference.”