By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2018-2019 season was a season of firsts for the Ash Grove Pirates as they entered a new conference and fielded a roster with no varsity experience.
That inexperience showed as the Pirates finished 5-21 overall and 1-6 in the Southwest Conference, ending their season with a 64-41 loss to second-seeded Verona in the first round of the Class 2 District 11 tournament.
The Pirates lose 35 of its 48.8 points-per-game from last year’s squad, but first-year coach Grant Williamson says there is a lot of excitement heading into the 2019-2020 season.
“As a new coaching staff, we will have to establish our team’s identity early,” Williamson said. “Who we are as a team will set the tone for the entire season. I am excited to see our upperclassmen step into leadership roles as well as our younger guys challenge for varsity time.”
Gone from last year’s team are Draven Zeigler, Briley King and Devin Blake. Zeigler stepped up big last season for the Pirates, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, earning second-team all-conference honors. King and Blake averaged 10 and 8 points per game, respectively.
Williamson does return two starters and four letterwinners this season, keyed by Sam Moreland and Cody Raney.
Moreland is a 5-foot-11 sophomore who averaged 7.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
“Sam is a great perimeter shooter and has high basketball instincts,” Williamson said. “He will be expected to step into a bigger scoring role this season.”
Raney, a 6-2 senior, averaged 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 2018-2019.
“Cody is a returning starter who is long and athletic,” Williamson said. “We expect him to step into a much bigger role as a senior.”
Other returning players Williamson will be looking to make an impact this season include:
• Jake Thompson, a 5-10 junior, who is the quarterback for the football team. “He is a smart player that leads by example; is one of our best defenders.”
• Jonas Adams, 5-8 senior – “We expect Jonas’ quickness and athleticism to be a pest on defense and provide a spark of energy to the team.”
• Robin Vert, 5-8 senior, is a “hard worker who gives his best all of the time.”
As for the newcomers, those contributors remain to be seen, but Williamson said competition each day in practice will be key.
“We will have a lot of new faces looking to prove themselves,” Williamson said. “There are several players who will have the opportunity to compete every day for varsity minutes. Competition is a huge part of our identity. It will take a collective effort of guys competing every day to see we reach our potential.
“We will play with a lot of energy on both ends of the floor. I think we have the potential to really be tough on the defensive end and force our opponents into taking difficult shots. That defensive energy will translate into offensive opportunities.”
The Pirates open the season on the road Nov. 26 against Purdy before competing in the Lockwood Tournament on Dec. 5-7, as well as returning to the Blue and Gold Tournament over Christmas break.
“We are especially excited to be back in the Blue and Gold Tournament for the first time in almost a decade,” Williamson said. “It is a great opportunity for our guys to play on a bigger stage and be a part of the tradition of that holiday tournament.”