CONWAY — Don’t be fooled by the 15-12 record the Conway boys’ basketball team put together last season. The Bears lost four games on the last possession, including a district semifinal game to eventual Class 3 Final Four team Mountain Grove.
From that team, the Bears lose big man Dylan Dampier and all-district and all-conference guard Taylor Simpson, who was a three-year starter at Conway.
“We were right on the verge of a really special season (last year), but that’s just the way things fall sometimes,” Conway head coach Jeff Cope said. “We were really happy with the way things turned out last year.”
This year, the Bears will lean heavily on senior Cody Delcour for production. A four-year varsity regular, Delcour is a standout perimeter shooter who has improved his all-around play over the years.
On Tuesday, Delcour hit five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 20 points as the Conway Bears opened the season with a big, 62-47, win over Crane, the Class 2 state runner-ups from last season.
“He is a great shooter who has been starting since he was a sophomore,” Cope said. “He brings a wealth of experience and can lead this team.”
Also returning is 6’4 senior big man Tanner Pippins, who has a soft touch around the basket and is a key defender and rebounder for the Bears. Pippins went for 15 points in the Bears’ win over Crane and frustrated the Pirates with his play in the paint.
“Tanner had a great year as a junior who is an old school post man,” Cope said. “He has a back to the basket game and he’s not going to do anything flashy, but he has the ability to score consistently. He’s also an underrated player on defense.”
Also returning is Gunnar Berger, a senior guard who who got significant playing time a year ago and will be taking on an even larger role this season.
“He started last year as a junior and played a lot,” Cope said. “He isn’t the most athletic player, but he can rally fill up the stat book. He does things that makes you want to keep him on the floor.”
In the backcourt will be guards Caleb Little, a 5’10 senior, and Colby Vavruska, a 5’10 sophomore. While both players are new to the varsity level, Cope says both have ability and will be key to the team’s success.
“I think our point guard situation will be in good hands with Little,” Cope said. “He’s waited his turn and he is ready to take on that role. I think he will do good things for us.
“Sometimes the first year in high school can be a little tougher than people think, but (Vavruska) had a great summer for us and is doing very well in practices for us. Those two are really going to step in and get the job done for us at the point guard spot.”
Also in the mix is 6’3 sophomore Jimmy Shockley, 6’2 senior forward Hunter Wissbaum and 6’2 junior Hayden Graves.
Cope says putting points on the board is something that program is focused on early in the season. While the team has a lot of experienced players returning, the team will need someone to step up and replace the scoring production of Simpson a year ago and will need to get tougher at the defensive end.