Cassville hoops grows through inexperience

A young Cassville boys basketball team took to the court this season with little experience, and after 27 games, the Wildcats went from leaning on a few players to competing night in and night out as a team.

Caleb Reynolds, Cassville boys basketball coach, said Cassville (13-14, 3-3) set several challenging goals this season, some met and some not.

“It’s always disappointing when you set goals for yourself and aren’t able to reach them, but we understood going into the season that if we set goals that were easily attainable there wouldn’t be any room for growth and improvement,” he said. “We definitely grew a lot as a team this year.”

The Wildcats matched their win total from the prior season at 13, and they finished the regular season and Big 8 Conference play at an even .500. Cassville suffered an overtime upset in the Class 4, District 12 tournament, falling to East Newton, 62-59.

Cassville came on strong in the second half of the season, posting a 9-7 regular-season record after Jan. 1, indicative of the squad’s growth over the season.

“It’s hard to say we improved the most in one area,” Reynolds said. “Really, we improved across the board as a basketball team. Coming into this season, we only had two players, Jon Dunbar and Eli Stokes, who had significant varsity experience. Those two guys did a great job of leading the way and as the season progressed we had more and more guys step up and take on more important roles.

“We started out as an inexperienced squad with a couple good players, and grew into a solid team with guys at every position who could contribute on any given night.”

One of the biggest wins this season came on the road over a foe the Wildcats have no MSHSAA record of beating. On Feb. 2, the Wildcats bested Nevada, 52-49, which marked the first victory over the Tigers in at least 15 years. The earliest recorded matchup was in December 2009, a 52-43 Cassville loss.

“Getting a win on the road at Nevada was a big moment for our team,” Reynolds said. “Coming into that game, we had been playing better, but were still 0-3 in conference and really needed a win. The first half the game was back and forth the whole time, then we came out hot early in the third quarter to take an 11 point lead.

“Nevada make a great run to come back but we held on for 52-49 win. That was a big game for us this year but also for our program since Cassville hadn’t beaten Nevada in over a decade.”

A significant factor in the Wildcats’ successes this season was the leadership provided by their four seniors: Cadyn Smith, Ethan Bohmke, Joey Craft and Jonathan Dunbar.

“Our seniors did a good job of setting standards and holding themselves and the underclassmen accountable to those standards,’ Reynolds said. “We’re working hard to build a successful program year in and year out, and the leadership of seniors is always needed to make that happen. Our seniors stepped up this year and lead.”

Three juniors and two sophomore on the squad will take the lead next season, which will see a 10 current freshmen fighting for time on the floor as sophomores.

“Next season, we will be very young,” Reynolds said. “Only three players returning played significant varsity minutes this season. There will again be growing pains because we are going to ask some underclassmen to do a lot of things that they might not be ready for. But, we’re confident in their abilities, current and potential, so we won’t be afraid to play those young guys.”

As the program pushes through those growing pains, Reynolds said it has been bolstered by greater support this season from Wildcat Nation.

“We really appreciate the support we’ve received from the community this year,” he said. “I felt like there were a lot more people coming to home games to cheer on our boys, even some big crowds at road games, and we really appreciated it. It encourages the players when the crowd is loud and cheering them on, and it makes them want to play that much harder.”