Winfield, Mo. – Fresh off consecutive GAC titles, it looked like business as usual for Winfield boys basketball at the beginning of the 2021-2022 season.
However, a key injury to Austin Carson at the Clopton Invitational sank the Warriors’ chances for another championship – and possibly damaged its postseason possibilities altogether.
The 2022-2023 version of the Warriors is not a big squad, so it will have to use its shooting and athleticism to create offense, as well as stay healthy.
“We have to improve in the rebounding department,” said Winfield coach John Varner, whose squad finished 14-13 last season with a second-round loss to St. Charles West at the Class 4 District 7 Tournament. “With the lack of true size in the post, we have to eliminate second chances off the glass, and allow us to get into our transition offense.
“We set school records in three-point attempts and three-point makes last year, and think we will be right at that clip this year. We are fortunate to have four-to-five players who can consistently knock down an outside shot.”
In addition to Carson, point guard DJ Gillespie was another key scorer from last season who is no longer with the program due to graduation. Both are currently playing for Central College in Iowa.
“DJ and Austin were great leaders and athletes for our program last year, and they will be hard to replace,” Varner said. “But we have a next man up philosophy here, so our (junior varsity) guys from last year know the opportunity at hand and are ready for the challenge.”
As for the Warriors who are returning, Varner will look to three key players for scoring and minutes. Junior Brady Creech will step in to play point guard, making Second-Team All-Conference and All-District last season.
Senior sharpshooter Peter Nicholl and Kaden Kaimann are a pair of seniors the Warriors look to for scoring and leadership. Nicholl led the GAC Conference in 3-pointers and was fifth in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area in the category.
“(Creech) averaged 12 points a game and took 26 charges last season as a sophomore. Brady is our playmaker who looks to get his teammates involved early,” Varner said. “Pete can flat out shoot it and is able to attack the rim off the bounce.
“Kaden is our most versatile player who plays much bigger than his size and can score in multiple ways. Kaden really brings some needed toughness to our team and program.”
Unlike in past years, Varner believes his Warriors might be “flying under the radar,” which could make Winfield a dangerous team as the season rolls along.
“I’m happy with where we are at right now as a program,” he said. “I feel most teams tend to overlook us and we try to use that as motivation with our guys. What we lack in size is made up with athleticism and toughness. We are a team that can spread the floor and attack off the bounce.
“Our biggest question mark will be on the defensive boards. If we can rebound consistently, we should be able to make a run in the conference and into the district tournament.”