by Beau Wicker
Last season Caston’s boys basketball team posted its best regular season since the undefeated squad of 2005.
The Comets went 16-6 and won a share of the Midwest Conference title and were the only MWC team that knocked off Pioneer.
The Comets stumbled a bit down the stretch, though, losing four of their final seven games after a 13-2 start. They were defeated by an up-and-coming Tri-County squad 64-54 in what was a disappointing end to an otherwise outstanding season.
The Comets have been able to overcome a big size disadvantage in most of their contests. They’ve been able to overcome that with effort, skill and shooting ability, and it hasn’t hurt they’ve had a player step up in each of the last two years to earn MWC Player of the Year honors under coach Ben Snyder, including Trevor Hoover last season and Alex Herd in 2011.
The Comets have lost 18 points per game to graduation, but they once again have players that are capable of putting together a big season.
Two of their top three players from a year ago are back in senior Jake Howdeshell and junior Quentin Douglass.
Howdeshell, a 5-10 shooting guard, averaged 15.6 ppg a year ago and shot 82 of 192 from 3-point range (42.7 percent). Douglass, a 5-10 guard, averaged 15.1 ppg, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game as a sophomore.
The Comets also return senior Daniel Scales (3.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg), a 6-1 banger inside, and 5-8 senior forward Corey Moss (5.4 ppg), who shot 36 percent from the 3-point line a year ago.
“I’m excited about the four returners,” Snyder said. “I like their demeanor. I like how they carry themselves, their business-like approach to the game. They reflect what Caston basketball is all about. They play hard and are focused.
“Jake has gotten better at putting the ball on the floor. Quentin has worked as hard as anybody on his shot. He put up thousands of shots in the spring and summer. He’s become a very efficient 3-point shooter. Those two and Corey can score. He’s a very good shooter, very consistent. And Daniel Scales has gotten better and better finishing around the basket. He’s the same old Dan, you never have to say anything to him. He’s Mr. Valuable to us.”
Alex Howdeshell is a 5-10 sophomore who saw some varsity time last year. Another 5-10 sophomore, Dustin Offenberger, also will step into a varsity role this year.
“Alex Howdeshell played crucial minutes last year. Dustin Offenberger is a very good shooter and had big games this summer. He’s another option, another kid who has spent a lot of time in the gym working out.”
The Comets also have two athletes out for the team this year who didn’t play a year ago in 6-3 senior Caleb Baldwin and 5-11 senior Jeremy Gonzalez.
“Caleb Baldwin at 6-3 definitely adds a dimension,” Snyder said. “He played varsity as a sophomore but didn’t play last year because he wanted to focus on baseball. He decided to come back out. He’s a great fit for our program. He’s a great kid. We’re excited about having him.
“Jeremy Gonzalez wrestled last year. He decided to come out and he played all summer. He’ll be in a Zek Kesler-type of role. He’s a great kid and will only get better. He hasn’t played in a couple years and he’ll get better and better as the year goes along.”
Snyder looks at Pioneer and Tri-County as the conference and sectional favorites.
“Obviously, you’ve got to put Pioneer up there. They return everyone. Tri-County returns everyone. Those are the two upper-echelon teams, and then there’s everyone else,” he said. “We hope we can get to that point by the middle to the end of the year to compete with those teams and have a chance.”
Caston will make a trek east of Warsaw to Winona Lake to take on Lakeland Christian Academy on Tuesday night in the season opener.
“They have a good point guard back and a 6-7 kid inside,” Snyder said. “If you look at the beginning of our schedule, we face a 6-7 kid and it’s all downhill from there. I think we might be the underdog in our first seven games. It’ll be challenging each and every night. We’ll go from there and see what happens.”