The Creston boys basketball team entered the 2013-14 season with a group of players who had never started a varsity basketball game in their careers.
The Panthers were fresh off a 19-4 season the year prior, in which they graduated nine seniors, leaving behind several holes to fill in the lineup. But, that also left this year’s team with plenty of opportunities.
At Tuesday’s team banquet, head coach Billy Hiatt celebrated this year’s eight seniors for what they were able to do this year, in a year of transition.
“Seniors, I appreciate it,” he said. “It was a good season. You did some things well, like knocking off Kuemper. We did some things that really set the tone for the younger guys.”
The eight seniors on this year’s team were Trey Benson, Jon Birchard, Cole Crawford, Evan Nielsen, Brandon Phipps, Cole Thompson, Maxx Walters and Carson Whittington.
Those eight seniors, paired with a strong junior class, formed the core of an 11-11 team that went through its share of ups and downs throughout the season.
Despite not returning a single player with starting experience, the Panthers won their first four games of the season.
“That shows the character, the hard work they put in over the summer,” Hiatt said. “We had a team that had played a lot when they were younger, but when the lights were on for real, they had kind of sat back a little bit because of the upperclassmen before them.”
What followed was a five-game losing streak, before the Panthers split the next four games.
The last game of that four-game stretch was what Hiatt called the turning point of the season for the Panthers, a 64-57 loss at Council Bluffs St. Albert that saw things get heated at the end of the game, before the Falcon crowd came onto the court as the Panthers exited the floor.
“I still think our turning point was the St. Albert game,” Hiatt said. “I feel like as a program, we kind of had to pull together. That was a stepping stone for our program. Not too long after that, you beat Kuemper here. You also went on the road to Glenwood — things didn’t work out too well, but you kept competing.”
Following the St. Albert loss, Creston won five of the next seven games before ending the season with back-to-back losses.
Even with the loss of eight seniors from this year’s team, there’s still plenty to be excited about in the future for Hiatt and the Panthers.
The junior class of Christian Groumoutis, McClain Haines, Sam Hartsock, Jake Miller, Alex Nielsen and Jay Wolfe returns after receiving plenty of experience this year.
Among that group, Wolfe was a unanimous selection to the Hawkeye 10 all-conference first team and was named a third-team all-stater by the Iowa Newspaper Association and the Des Moines Register.
Wolfe recorded just the 14th season in Creston boys history of 400 or more points scored, netting 409 points. His 49 made 3-pointers this season also tie him for the seventh-best season total with Ben Gerleman.
“I feel really good about the upcoming year,” Hiatt said. “We’ve got some young guys coming up and some guys coming back. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
(* — number of letters)
Seniors — Trey Benson*, Jon Birchard*, Cole Crawford**, Evan Nielsen*, Brandon Phipps***, Cole Thompson***, Maxx Walters*, Carson Whittington*.
Juniors — Christian Groumoutis*, McClain Haines*, Sam Hartsock*, Jake Miller*, Alex Nielsen**, Jay Wolfe**.
Sophomores — Cooper McDermott*.
Participation awards — Sam Eagan, Chris Foster, Brandon Jones, Ryan Kucera, Travis Purdy, Nick Walsh.
Hawkeye 10 all-conference — Jay Wolfe (unanimous first team), Alex Nielsen (honorable mention), Cole Thompson (honorable mention).
Hawkeye 10 all-academic — Maxx Walters.