By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
While Crane put together a solid season in 2018-19, the team fell short of its goal.
The 24-4 Pirates fell to eventual champion Marionville in the Class 2 District 11 semifinal round.
Head coach Kevin Smith was pleased with his team’s success and hopes it carries over to this season’s group.
“I thought we had an excellent season last year,” Smith said. “It didn’t finish like we wanted, but we were very pleased. We saw some good things about us last year in about creating tempo offensively and defensively and we plan on building on that success. One of the biggest challenges we had last year was our size, we played much bigger than we are day in and day out.”
Crane’s first order of business this season is to find replacements for a talented trio of graduated seniors.
“Bryston Branstetter was an excellent leader for our team,” Smith said. “I could count on him to do all the little things for us to be successful. Colby Killman was really good at rebounding and leading our break and Wyatt Cloyd was really good at playing big around the basket.”
A trio of players are set to lead the Pirates attack this season in Tyler Campbell, Isaiah Smith and Wes Branstetter.
Campbell, a 5-foot-8 senior, averaged 19 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
“Tyler is very quick in the open floor,” Smith said. “He can score at all three levels and is one of the better on-the-ball defenders I have coached.”
At 5-foot-8, Smith averaged 15 points, 3 assists and 2.4 steals for the Pirates. The junior also connected on 77 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip.
“Isaiah can really shoot the ball and attack the rim to score or to make a play,” Smith said. “He has a strong skill set.”
Both Campbell (1,500) and Isaiah Smith (1,000) could reach individual scoring milestones this season.
Branstetter, a 5-foot-9 senior and SWCL Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.1 steals per contest.
“Wes is an amazing on the ball defender and plays so much bigger than what he is,” Smith said.
5-foot-11 junior Brecken Vaught (7 ppg, 1.6 apg, 1.8 spg) and 6-foot-5 senior Jacob Woodward (7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 bpg) round out the returning Pirate players.
In addition to its returning core, Crane welcomes a talented group of newcomers to the varsity roster, including freshman Aiden Vaught, sophomore Aric Spyres, sophomore Sam Woodward, junior Seth Stelle and sophomore Zander Mayne.
With a host of new and established players, Smith believes early success will be determined by how quickly everyone learns to play together.
“The biggest thing with this group will be chemistry and roles for our team to be successful,” Smith said. “I think once we get the roles established and the chemistry works with those
roles we will have a solid team.”
While offensive chemistry might be a work in progress as the season begins, Smith believes his defense should be ready to carry the load from day one.
“I think one of our biggest strengths is our team play defensively,” Smith said. “We really have bought into our defensive pressure. They really look forward to guarding teams.”
For Crane to make a deep run in the postseason, Smith believes on-court leadership will be absolutely paramount.
“We only go as far as our upperclassmen can lead,” Smith said. “Player-led teams can accomplishment a lot when everyone believes in the goals.”
Crane opens its season Nov. 26 at Conway.