By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
There will be plenty of familiar faces in Springfield Catholic green and white this winter. They’ll just be in different places.
Gone are the head coach and all five starters from last year’s Class 3 runner-up squad. Replacing them will be an experienced assistant coach and five letterwinners.
“We lost a lot to graduation last year, but I think this year’s team has the ability to surprise a lot of people,” senior Ben Galligos said.
He’ll be one of those letterwinners looking to move into a starting role for new head coach Denny Hunt, who replaces Dustin Larsen. Larsen has moved on to the Strafford girls’ program after leading the Catholic boys to a 51-11 record in two seasons.
This will be Hunt’s second year at Catholic after serving as an assistant to Larsen for one season. But Hunt knows his Xs and Os. He’s coached at the high school and collegiate level for a long time. How long?
“Too many years to count,” Hunt said.
Last year’s Fightin’ Irish squad almost won too many games to count, running up a record of 29-4 as they swept through district play and defeated Lamar and Blair Oaks to advance to the final four for the first time since1984 and just the second time in school history. Catholic fell to Vashon 69-59 in the Class 3 championship game.
Two forwards from that team are currently playing college football, Tyson Riley at Army and Wallace Squibb at Cornell. Guard Jake Branham is playing basketball for Central Methodist. Hunter Brown, Michael Manzardo and Charlie O’Reilly have also graduated for Catholic.
Galligos is one of three seniors back after contributing to the state runner-up squad. He appeared in 33 games, averaging 5 points and 2 rebounds per game. Will Morrison averaged 7 points and 5 boards as a junior, while Luke Nelson appeared in 10 games, averaging 2 points and 1 rebound per night.
Also back are junior Will Squibb and sophomore Zach Howell. Both players appeared in more than 30 games last season, with Howell — at 6-foot-4 — scoring 7 points and 4 rebounds per outing.
Last year’s senior losses provide opportunities for varsity newcomers, and Hunt has a deep pool to draw from. Juniors Drew Bauer and Tom Headley and Trenton Webster all measure 6-foot-4, giving the Fightin’ Irish some height. Juniors Grisham Aleshire and John David Bigler will also figure in the mix, as will sophomore Liam O’Reilly.
“We have a number of sophomores that may have the opportunity to contribute as well,” Hunt said.
It’s a lot of new to blend together in a tough league like the Big 8, even for a veteran coach like Hunt. But Catholic made full use of the offseason to get a headstart on building that cohesion.
“We had a good summer where our guys began to develop their own identities as players as well as developing a positive team culture that we feel is a great foundation for the building of this year’s team,” Hunt said. “We’re very excited to get our season underway.”