Pictured is the Dexter Bearcats varsity boys basketball team.
Injuries have sidelined two of the Bearcats' three returning starters, one to season-ending knee surgery, leaving a void that will be filled by players with very little varsity experience.
"This is by far the most inexperienced team I've had," Dexter coach Rob Nichols said. "Coming into the season we expected to have three starters back and a couple of kids that started at different points during the year. Right now one (junior Cody Neldon) is out with a year-ending knee injury. Another one, Chase Young, hopefully we can get back in the next few weeks with a fractured fibula.
"Beside those two, the only experience we've got is Brad Potts (senior, 6'2" forward) and DJ Dowdy (junior, 5'9" guard) who have ever played any meaningful minutes in a varsity basketball game," Nichols continued. "Chase has a lot of experience and of course DJ and Brad have got some experience. Other than that we just don't have any experience right now.
"But you know it is going to take more than those three kids to step up and play a leadership role and play some valuable minutes and give us some scoring and rebounding and everything you need in basketball," he added. "We've got some seniors on the team, they just haven't played. They just don't have experience. We'll just have to see."
Nichols will be looking to Ryan Joyner and Jonathan Paige to step up in their senior seasons. They are two of the taller players on a team that is lacking in size.
"We don't have a lot of size," Nichols noted. "Ryan Joyner is strong, but he's 6', maybe 6'1. About 6'1, 6'2 is about as tall as we get. We'll have to do it with hustle and strength. The biggest kids we have right now are in the freshman class, height wise.
Nichols thinks Paige (6'2") could be a difference maker.
"He's a big strong kid," Nichols said. "A athletic kid. He's got to learn to play hard all the time and play through some mistakes. He's got athletic ability and the body that could really help us."
Dexter has hovered around the .500 mark in recent seasons, finishing 13-13 last season. The Bearcats did win their second Stoddard County Activities Association (SCAA) tournament title in three years last season, that was included in a 10-0 win streak that started midway through the season. But the pre-season injury bug will hurt the team early as they open against two formidable SEMO Conference opponents in defending Class 3 state champion Charleston at home and Sikeston on the road. Dexter will turn around and most likely face one of those two teams again as the SEMO conference tournament will be next up for the 'Cats.
Nichols feels three or four of the starting spots are settled, but there are several players, including some younger players, still battling for playing time.
"We're still looking at it right now," Nichols said of his potential starting five. "A lot of them are pretty even. We might have some young kids play a role before the season is over.
"We'll have to see how they adept and play," he added. "There is some talent in that freshman class, but again they are young and when you play in the SEMO Conference early in the year and with the teams we play, that's a lot of physicality. A lot of athleticism. There's a big difference in middle school basketball and SEMO Conference varsity basketball."
While Dexter competes in two tough, competitive conferences, the season-ending Class 4, District 1 tournament is just more of the same. Sikeston has dominated the district in recent years, while Notre Dame Regional High School has also experienced success. Joining the district this season under the new alignment will be Cape Central (moving down from Class 5) and Kennett (moving up from Class 3). Perryville will round out the six-team field.
"I was surprised when Cape moved in there," Nichols said. "But our district was tough already, so you might as well pile them all in there."
NOTE: Chase Young was selected to the SCAA all-tournament teams last year. The Bearcats lost two all-conference players to graduation in Jake Lee and Tyler Miller.