Forrest Murphy/WD Sports

Millsap senior guard Dayson Benfer (5) is one of several returning starters for the Bulldogs in 2019-20.

For the Millsap Bulldogs, the 2019-20 season stands as a chance to take advantage of a plethora of returning experience and make their mark on a highly competitive District 7-3A landscape.

For Head Coach Reagan Cox, the optimism surrounding Millsap’s upcoming campaign starts with the team’s large returning veteran presence.

“I’m excited,” Cox said.

“I’m returning three starters and three other contributors from last year’s varsity team, and then I’m moving up quite a few JV kids from last year that did really good things and got a lot of minutes under their belt. 

“We’re bringing back a lot of leadership and determination to do better than we did last year.”

One such returner is senior Hunter Matthews, who has proven a dangerous weapon from beyond the arc, Cox said.

“Im definitely expecting big things from Hunter Matthews,” Cox said.

“He was one of our starters and was a second-team all-district kid for us last year, and I expect him to get all-district recognition again. He led the team in three-pointers.”

Cox also highlighted senior Dayson Benfer, who consistently displayed great intensity out on the court.

“Dayson Benfer was someone who brought a lot of energy to the floor, and I’m expecting big things from him,” Cox said.

“He made honorable mention in all-district, but I’m looking for him to possibly get bigger recognition this year.”

The tenacity of the Bulldogs’ younger players also stands to greatly benefit the team this season, Cox added.

“There’s a kid named Chris Mizeski, he’s someone I pulled up from JV about three fourths of the way into the season last year,” Cox said.

“He did huge things for us off the bench and is someone that’ probably gonna start for us. He’s someone who’s gonna get every rebound possible. He’s not the biggest kid on the floor, but he brings the most energy. With those three seniors, I’m expecting a ton of energy this season.

“Nathan Sykes was our starting point guard last year. He was a sophomore, and he’s going to keep that starting point guard role this year as a junior. He’s already leaps and bounds better than he was last year. He decided to play football this year, and he’s already worked his way up to a starting role on the varsity football team. He’s someone I envision being one of our key contributors on offense. He’s gonna do big things on defense as well. 

Millsap’s players also plan to take advantage of the team’s abundant athleticism and comfortability playing with each other, Benfer said.

“Our strengths are that we are a very athletic team and that we have chemistry,” Benfer said.

“We have been playing together since Little League. I feel like we have a pretty good chance because the people we brought up from JV will help us substantially.”

Sykes seconded his teammate’s thoughts, saying the Bulldogs are a team with great physical endurance.

“One of our greatest strengths this year is our athleticism,” Sykes said.

“We are looking to push the ball and put up points. We have several players who are lights out shooters who can stretch out the floor to open driving lanes.”

Fully aware of the challenging district slate on the horizon, Cox said the scheduling of multiple difficult tournaments early in the season is vital to the team’s long term success.

“We’re going to the Lipan Tournament, that’s gonna be a grinder,” Cox said.

“There’s 16 teams there, and I think about eight or nine of those teams are ranked in the top 25 in either 1A, 2A or 3A, so no matter whether we win or lose a game there, we’re probably going to be facing a team that is highly touted throughout the state. But we have to enter tournaments like that because of our district. We’ve got Brock, Peaster, Tolar and Breckenridge which are no joke. 

“We’re also going to Poolville. That’s usually an exciting tournament as well. They usually have quite a few good teams anywhere from 1-3A. 

“Both of those tournaments set us up pretty well to get ready for district and the kind of talent we’re going to face every single day.”

As for District 7-3A competition itself, Cox stressed that the amount of returning varsity experience on his team compared to others stands to help Millsap’s competitiveness.

“We always have to prepare for Brock and Peaster, who are always ranked top 15 in the state,” Cox said.

“But we’re excited, there were a few games we let slip away from us last year that we think we can get back this year. 

“I think it’s gonna be a very competitive year for every single team in the district. I know some of those top teams lost some key contributors for this year, and we’re one of the few teams that are bringing back most of their starters, so I think every Tuesday and Friday are going to be a close matchup between any two teams in our district.”

While the competition will be stiff, the Bulldogs are ready to accept the challenges ahead and make some noise in 2019-20, Sykes said.

“No one outside of our program has expectations for our team this year, but we have faith in ourselves,” Sykes said.

“We have very good players coming up this year who are gonna make a huge impact from the start. 

“We’re going to shock a lot of people and I personally feel like we’re going to make a push into the playoffs.”

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