By Jeff Kessinger (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Zane Culp’s first year at the helm of the Neosho Wildcats was a bit of a roller coaster. He’s hoping year two will be a little more stable.
Neosho went 10-16 overall — a four-win improvement over 2018-2019 — and advanced to the Class 4 District 12 championship game, where they fell to host Webb City in double overtime. It was the first trip to the district finals for Neosho since 2003.
“Things are never as bad as they seem but also never as great as they seem,” Culp said. “That was evident by having two four-game winning streaks and two losing streaks of four or more.”
Culp, in his seventh year of coaching overall, will enjoy the benefits of being in his second season at Neosho. He knows the players and they know him and what to expect from the coaching staff.”
“Being a first year head coach, the biggest challenge was getting my philosophies in place, then getting the athletes to buy in to what we were doing. We also had to make sure the players bought into their roles and accepted a changing of those roles throughout the season.”
The Wildcats lose four starters and a letterman from last year’s squad, including Cade Cradduck, Derek Ferguson, Kaden King, AC Marion and Cole Seward.
But Neosho has plenty of talent returning. That includes seniors Sam Cook and Mason Gammons. Cook, at 6-foot-4, averaged 7 rebounds per game. Cook scored 8 points per game and shot 38 percent from 3-point range.
Two more guards with experience also return, in junior Landon Austin and senior Quincey Willis.
“I expect (Cook) and (Austin) to be our on-court leaders this season,” Culp said. “They play with such competitive spirit and passion, while also being great kids off the court.”
With so much backcourt talent returning, Culp and assistant coaches Tee Helsel, Jacob Srigley and Ethan Murray will be switching things up offensively.
“We’ll be going from a traditional two post lineup to more of a four-guard lineup,” Culp said. “I think we will have strong guard play as well as a tough defense to match a lot of opponents.”
A change in system, though, won’t be enough to change Neosho’s fortunes.
“To be successful this season we’ll need improved outside shooting and improved overall offensive accuracy.”
Neosho competes in the always-difficult Central Ozark Conference and, once again, will face a challenging district field. But Culp thinks his squad has what it takes to make a run in the district tournament at the end of the season.
“I expect our team to compete in every game and have a shot at a district title and winning season,” he said.