By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A beloved senior class is gone, but the 2020-21 Skyline Tigers remain a viable postseason contender.
A young Skyline team aims for more March basketball following a 30-win season and Class 2 state runner-up finish.
“If we can avoid injuries, we have every bit of the talent we had from last season,” said Skyline coach Tommy Egan, who enters his fourth season at the school. “However, we need to come together as a team and buy into our different roles entering a new season.
“We have to maintain focus and bring our absolute best to practice every single day, and we need to put team success above anything else.”
Skyline’s led by returning all-conference guard Lawson Beem, a junior. He averaged 12 points and five assists per game last season and is Skyline’s top returning scorer.
“He is extremely quick and can score from all three levels,” Egan said. “He’s also an excellent ball handler and passer, and solid defensively. We need Lawson to take on a bigger role statistically and leadership-wise this season.”
Skyline returns another junior with significant varsity experience in 6’1” forward Jaytin DeFreece. The honorable mention all-conference selection averaged eight points and six rebounds per game last season.
“He plays extremely hard on both ends, gives us scoring and rebounding, and is a very good passer in the post,” Egan said.
Senior Bradyn Porter transferred from Marshfield last school year and quickly found a new role with the Tigers – doing a little bit of everything. He averaged 10 points and four rebounds while earning all-conference honorable mention.
“Bradyn’s a gym rat who loves basketball,” Egan said. “He’s also a tremendous teammate and we’re looking for him to become more of a vocal leader this season. He’s a very good outside shooter and can also drive or score from the block, which makes him versatile. He also gives us rim protection on defense.”
Junior guard Kourt Cheek played his best during Skyline’s postseason run last year. He’ll have an increased role this season after averaging 3.5 points as a sophomore.
“Kourt’s a heady and fundamental player who is well-rounded in so many aspects of the game,” Egan said. “We anticipate his game to take another jump after (playing) two seasons of varsity.”
Skyline comes off one of the best seasons in school history.
The Tigers made the state final four for the first time since 1995 and finished 30-3 overall.
After losing to Class 5 Kickapoo in the Blue and Gold quarterfinals, Skyline went on a 23-game winning streak. The Tigers reached the Class 2 state title game, where they fell to Hartville.
Skyline earned its second straight district title – and fifth since the 2012-13 season – by beating Crest Ridge 59-46 in the Class 2 District 13 Tournament finals. The Tigers also won the Mid-Lakes Conference with a 5-0 record.
Skyline must replace a five-player senior class that included all-state point guard Dax Beem. He’s now playing at William Woods (NAIA).
Also gone are Ethan Edwards, Gage Gunter, Chris Logan and Connor Logan.
Above all else, Skyline’s 2020 seniors brought leadership and a strong work ethic to the program.
“They gave so much in terms of hard work, talent and coachability,” Egan said. “We will have to replace their everyday work ethic and team-first mindset.”
The Tigers look for a bounce-back season from senior guard Trey Swearingin, who missed all of last season with an injury. Swearingin’s known for his defense.
“He has the ability to be one of the best defenders in the area,” Egan said. “He is solid on the offensive end, and is also a tremendous leader and teammate.”
Junior Zack Williams gives Skyline a versatile threat with his 6’0” frame.
“He’s an outstanding ball handler and passer who makes good things happen,” Egan said. “He’s also a very capable scorer. We expect him to be a major factor this season.”
New names pushing for varsity minutes include juniors Dawson Pitts, Brylie Turner and Mason Beck, along with sophomore Weston Owen.
Pitts is “one of the best shooters on the team” and has good athleticism, Egan said.
Turner had a productive offseason and could earn playing time in the post this season.
“He’s a good rebounder and finisher and plays hard,” Egan said.
Beck, at 6’1” gives Skyline another option in the post.
Owen, also 6’1”, showed tremendous improvement in the offseason and could also play a role in Skyline’s varsity rotation.
Rounding out Skyline’s roster are junior Nate Leslie, sophomores Clayton Gronniger and Caden Crawford, along with freshmen AJ Dampier, Cohen Mashburn and Weston Stoner.
Skyline opens the regular season at the 88th annual Warsaw Invitational, which runs November 30 through December 5.