One season ago, a young Mountain Grove boys basketball team opened their season by dropping their first six games.
Fortunately, the Panthers began to turn things around midway through the season when they won five games during an eight game stretch.
After picking up some momentum, the season ended abruptly in the postseason with a first round loss in districts.
In losing just one starter to graduation in Gavin Charlton, Mountain Grove is returning an experienced line-up that is hoping to carry recent success on the football field over to the basketball court.
Among the returning starters will be leading scorer Kaden Bruce. The senior point guard returns after averaging 12.6 points a game a season ago, which helped him earn All-Conference and All-District honors.
Senior Jace Dowden also returns with his 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Dowden was an All-Conference selection. Senior Bryce Stenzel returns, who was a leader among perimeter shooters for the Panthers. He averaged 8.1 points per game a season ago.
Also in the post is junior Tyson Elliott. Elliott averaged 8.5 points per game last season and was named All-Conference and All-District.
Other key returners include senior Isiah Hellbusch, junior Hollen Glenn, junior Drew Vaughan and junior Kyle Penner. Other notable players are Bradley Henry, Nick Archer and Andrew Norris.
Leading the team is now Hall of Fame head coach Duane Hiler, who is in his 22nd year of coaching.
Opener against Springfield Catholic
In their season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 23, the Panthers took on Springfield Catholic and lost, 61-38.
Mountain Grove trailed by just four points at the end of the first quarter before the Irish opened up a 33-21 lead at halftime.
Springfield Catholic would go on to outscore Mountain Grove, 20-5, in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 23-point victory. (No individual statistics were made available at press time.)