With everyone returning from a 9-13 team that finished tied for fifth in the Hawkeye 10 Conference a year ago, Creston head boys basketball coach Billy Hiatt expects his second season as coach to be more successful.
“We return everybody back. It should be a little better year this year,” Hiatt said. “It was my first year last year, so guys were kind of feeling me out a little bit. I was feeling them out. We should have a little more success this year just because the system isn’t new to them this year.”
The Panthers lost five games by six points or less last season, including a double overtime loss to Adel-DeSoto-Minburn at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
That is one area Hiatt expects last year’s experience to improve his squad this season.
“It’s huge, especially in close games,” Hiatt said. “There were quite a few games last year we lost that were very close. Having seniors back in there, having guys with experience, is huge. Last year we lost in double overtime to ADM at Wells Fargo Arena. This year, we’ve got guys who are used to doing that, so it should play a big advantage for us on that end.”
The Panthers return 12 players with varsity experience from a year ago, nine of which are seniors this year.
“We were young last year. Toward the end of the year, we didn’t have any seniors,” Hiatt said. “Relatively speaking, you may have had some varsity time, but you’re young when you’re all juniors and sophomores. This year, we’re senior heavy, so we should have some experience, which will make a difference.”
Colby Taylor, first-team all-conference last year, led the team in scoring last year at 11.7 points per game, while Luke Neitzel, second-team Hawkeye 10, averaged 10.2 points.
Taylor proved to be a strong shooter, hitting 35 percent of his 3-point attempts, knocking down 44 over the course of the season.
Trey Thomsen, Hawkeye 10 honorable mention a year ago, averaged 9.1 points per game and Briar Evans added 6.3.
“Colby Taylor really worked on his shooting more this summer,” Hiatt said. “I’m hoping he’s going to be shooting well for us again. He’s a little taller, little longer, so that helps.Luke Neitzel, he’s a senior this year for us. I really like his manners, the way he’s doing things. He seems to really be hooking up and showing some leadership in that role.
“We return Briar Evans inside. He’s bigger, stronger, a little more athletic this year, so looking for big things out of him,” Hiatt continued.
Point guard Kainen Somers worked on his shot over the summer, and Hiatt says he is showing signs of improvement this season. Ryan Cook, a 6-8 post player, with another year of playing under his belt after taking his sophomore season off, looks stronger this year, as well.
Seniors Caleb Thompson, Zach Powers and Bryce McIlravy – when he returns from a broken ankle sustained during football season – will prove to be important role players for the Panthers this year.
Added into the mix of returners from last year is sophomore Jay Wolfe, who will add a key component that was missing from last year’s Panther squad.
“He can score from anywhere around,” Hiatt said. “He’s really good in the 15-foot range, and that’s something we were really missing last year, was a midrange game. We had guys who could shoot threes and we had guys who could penetrate a little bit, but we were kind of missing that midrange, which will really help against the zone.”
Also added to this year’s roster is sophomore Alex Nielsen.
These additions, along with a full year of the players working with his system, has Hiatt optimistic for the season.
“I’m hoping this year we can have some success,” Hiatt said. “Atlantic, he returned everyone this year, so they should be very good. Harlan will be typical Harlan. They’ll always be tough. I’m hoping to be top three or four (Hawkeye 10) this year. We open up with Lewis Central. He was above us. He returns some key players back, as well. It should be a dog fight in the Hawkeye 10, for sure. We should have a chance this year to make some noise.”
The Panthers open the season Friday at Lewis Central before taking on ADM at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets for that game are on sale at the CHS office, and can be purchased for $7. That ticket also includes admission to the Iowa Energy home opener, which takes place immediately following the high school game.
Seniors – Kainen Somers, Trey Thomsen, Caleb Thompson, Luke Neitzel, Zach Powers, Colby Taylor, Briar Evans, Ryan Cook, Bryce McIlravy.
Juniors – Cole Thompson, Brandon Phipps, Cole Crawford, Evan Nielsen, Trey Benson, Maxx Walters.
Sophomores – Jay Wolfe, Alex Nielsen, Nick Noecker, Sam Hartsock, Jake Miller, McClain Haines, Christian Groumoutis.
Nov. 30 – at Lewis Central, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 1 – vs. ADM, at Wells Fargo Arena, 5 p.m.
Dec. 4 – at Kuemper Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 – vs. Glenwood, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 10 – vs. Shenandoah, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14 – vs. Harlan, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 18 – vs. Denison-Schleswig, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 21 – at Red Oak, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 4 – at Clarinda, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 8 – vs. Atlantic, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 11 – vs. Kuemper Catholic, 6 p.m.
Jan. 15 – at Glenwood, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 – at Shenandoah, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 19 – at Nodaway Valley, 5 p.m.
Jan. 25 – at Denison-Schleswig, 6 p.m.
Feb. 1 – vs. Red Oak, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 – vs. Lewis Central, 5 p.m.
Feb. 4 – at Winterset, 7:45 p.m.
Feb. 5 – vs. Clarinda, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 8 – at Atlantic, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 12 – at Harlan, 7:30 p.m.