Nov. 17—The Caston boys basketball team took a bit of a step back last year after graduating five starters from an HNAC championship team.
The Comets went 8-15 a year ago, reversing the 15-8 record from the year before as they missed the contributions of Joey Spin, Kade Zeider, Bryce Rudicel, Sam Smith and Jake Paschen.
But the Comets return two of their top three scorers this year and more varsity experience overall than they had entering last season. Although they did graduate six seniors including second leading scorer Cain Schanlaub (11.3 ppg) and fourth leading scorer Colby Pugh (6.5 ppg), the only two returning varsity regulars a year ago.
This year they return leading scorer Caleb Stinson (11.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg), a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, and third leading scorer Talon Zeider (10.6 ppg, 2 spg), a 5-11 senior sharpshooter. Another returning varsity regular is Grant Yadon, a 6-3 football standout.
Seventh-year head coach Carl Davis talked about his three returnees.
"I think that they've had good offseasons," he said. "Talon has really shot it well for us the past few years. I think he's a more dynamic player now. I think he's improved passing the basketball. He does a good job of creating deflections defensively and getting some steals. He led us in steals last year as well.
"Caleb Stinson has shown progress in terms of his decision making. He's extremely explosive and just knowing when he needs to change speeds or when we need him to go to a different pace, I think he's really grown in that area for us.
"Grant gives us a physical presence. He's so active on both ends of the floor. He gets rebounds out of his area, gets a lot of deflections and steals because of how active he is. Any time you have an athlete like him on the floor he can cause a lot of problems for teams."
The Comets will have several players stepping up into a varsity role for this season, Davis said. Among them include Carter Clingler, a 6-0 senior who can score from both inside and outside, Corbin Smith, a 6-3 senior who can take care of the basketball and gives the Comets some inside scoring, Gavin Mollenkopf, a 5-11 sophomore who is active defensively and on the boards, Lane Hook, a 6-2 freshman who is a long athlete and is a good fit for the Comets' switching defensive system, Alex Craig, a 6-0 sophomore who is a scrappy on defense and the offensive boards, and Josh Evans, a 6-0 junior who shoots the ball well and takes care of the ball.
Caston's 8-15 season a year ago included a sweep of Pioneer and wins over Culver, West Central, Northfield, North White and North Miami.
"I think last year was a struggle for consistency," Davis said. "We had quarters where we were really strong and played really well and then there were quarters where we kind of disappeared. The sectional was kind of a perfect summation of that, getting down huge in the first half and then making a comeback in the second half. This year a big step for us has got to be the consistency. We can't have quarters where we score less than five points and then we had some quarters last year where we scored 20. We need to be more steady than that and make sure that throughout the course of a game that we're all focused on the same thing, that we're all on the same page.
"A big part of that is making sure that we don't let one mistake become two mistakes or three mistakes. I think we had some games where those things snowballed on us. I think this is a group where that has to be a focus. We know that we have to put 32 minutes together every night and make sure that we're all on the same page and locked in together."
North Judson is the defending HNAC champion. Davis thinks LaVille enters as the favorite this year.
"I think there's a lot of talented players in our conference. LaVille is going to be really tough with their guard play and experience. They have some three- and four-year varsity guys on their team this year and a good young player to go with them as well," Davis said. "They're going to be extremely tough and really outside of LaVille there's a lot of balance. There's nobody in the conference that you should feel comfortable going into a game with and not be prepared for because the coaching and the players in this conference are at a really high level and we're excited for this challenge ahead of us."
Caston lost to Frontier 44-40 in a sectional semifinal last year in a game the Comets trailed 25-8 at halftime. Frontier lost to Tri-County 56-54 in the championship game the next night.
"I think Tri-County coming back with the majority of their team and the majority of their scoring and production last year and coming off a sectional win last year, I think they're probably the team that everyone is looking at," Davis said. "That's one of the reasons we got them on the schedule this year in the regular season. Being able to see them before late February or early March, they're really a team we haven't played much unless we've matched up with them in the sectional.
"I think the last handful of years this sectional has been an exciting one and one that has been pretty evenly matched. I don't think this year will be any different."
Caston travels to Lakeland Christian Academy on Tuesday to open the season. Lakeland Christian has won the last two meetings but Caston leads the overall series 6-4.