ANDERSON — Coming into last season, everybody knew that it was going to be a transitional season for the McDonald County Mustangs.
The Mustangs graduated their entire starting lineup from a 20-plus win team that won a Big 8 Conference title and new head coach Kyle Fields came over from East Newton after Trent Barratt stepped down to focus on his administrative duties.
McDonald County finished 4-24 overall last season, with victories over Cedar Ridge (Arkansas), Monett, Seneca, and Cassville in the district tournament.
However, coming into this season, things are different and you can easily tell being around Fields and watching the Mustangs on the court.
“We are a year-and-a-half to two years into our system now,” Fields said after Mustang Pride Night. “Things are starting to click and we had a really good summer. We’ve got Peyton Barton back and our weight system has been great. We’ve gotten a lot better. Cooper Reece has got better. Tim Shields, our big guy inside, has got a lot better. Things are flowing a lot better this year. We’re excited.”
The Mustangs return starting guards Boston Dowd and Blake Gravette, starting interior players Reece and Shields, and key spark off the bench Cole DelosSantos, all of whom look bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled and confident on the court.
That inside-outside balance — with shooters like Gravette and Barton, who missed all of last season to injury, complementing slashers and inside muscle — could pay dividends for the Mustangs in the win column.
“We’ve got some good shooters,” Fields said. “We’ve got some good post play and we’re able to run the floor a little bit more this year. Last year, we were in our very basic stuff and didn’t get to get into a whole lot. We’ve put in our culture and things are starting to take shape.”
Teams normally take a great leap forward in the second year of a head coach, with the players showing growth and improvement. In football this past season, we saw that with Seneca and in McDonald County, we even saw that under first-year head coach Kellen Hoover.
“I think something that helps a lot is our football team having success this year,” Fields said. “We’re hoping their confidence carries over into basketball season. The confidence is there, the great attitude’s high, and we’ve got some really great kids, high character kids. We’re looking for good things this year and our experience is going to show more this year.”
Barton and DelosSantos were key contributors on McDonald County’s football team.
McDonald County opens its season November 20 at home against Joplin — this season’s football team defeated five opponents it took losses against in the previous season and the boys get their first chance at reversing outcomes from the previous season with the Eagles.
Last season, Joplin defeated McDonald County 64-49 in the season opener.
On Friday, just three days before the season opener, McDonald County will see Joplin, East Newton, and Neosho in a jamboree at Joplin High.
Looking forward, tournaments this season for McDonald County include the Carthage Invitational after Thanksgiving, the Neosho Holiday Classic in late December, and the Jay Tournament in tournament week in January. The Mustangs dropped Joplin for Jay, leaving the Kaminsky Classic.
McDonald County also picked up a late December game against Diamond.
The Mustangs open Big 8 play January 9 at home against Monett.
On their winter sports calendar, the Mustangs are listed as hosting districts for a second year in a row — Class 4, District 10 with Aurora, Carl Junction, Cassville, Monett, and Webb City. Host information was unable to be accessed from the MSHSAA website.
Nov. 20 — vs. Joplin
Nov. 27-Dec. 2 — Carthage Tournament
Dec. 8 — at St. Mary’s Colgan
Dec. 19 — at Shiloh Christian
Dec. 21 — at Diamond
Dec. 27-30 — Neosho Holiday Classic
Jan. 9 — vs. Monett
Jan. 12 — at Seneca
Jan. 16 — at Webb City
Jan. 18-20 — Jay Tournament
Jan. 23 — vs. Carthage
Jan. 26 — vs. Neosho
Jan. 30 — at Cassville
Feb. 2 — at East Newton
Feb. 6 — at Lamar
Feb. 9 — vs. Providence Academy
Feb. 16 — vs. Mount Vernon
Feb. 20 — vs. Aurora
Feb. 22 — at Carl Junction