2016-17 basketball preview: Clever Girls

Head Coach: Dan Jones
2015-16 Record: 18-8 – Lost to Springfield Catholic in the Class 3, District 11 tournament
Top Players: Harper Little (G/F), Hannah Maples (G), Taylor Menzies (F), Madison Newman (F/G), Abi Menzies (F), Tessa Newman (G), Ashten Graff (F), Allie Clevenger (G)

The Clever Lady Jays followed up their 8-16 campaign in 2014-15 with an 18-win season last year, thanks in part to a terrific freshman bursting onto the scene in the SWCL.

Harper Little was a first-team all-conference selection last year as a freshman, and deservedly so. Little played in every game and led her team in several categories, including 14.3 PPG, 2.7 APG, 1.4 BPG and a whopping 4.2 SPG.

“Harper plays fearless each time she steps on the floor,” said Clever coach Dan Jones. “She doesn’t play ‘not to lose’ ever, she plays to win. She plays both sides of the ball equally well, and brings an intensity level that rubs off on her teammates. She was selected to the SWMO future 50’s and is drawing college looks already. Drury invited her to their future Lady Panther day.

“Even though she will still be an underclassman, I expect her to help lead the team more vocally this year. I am also expecting her to work on expanding an already well-balanced game.”

She’ll be accompanied by fellow All-SWCL guard Hannah Maples in her senior season. Maples was the second-leading scorer behind Little with 13.6 points per contest. If Maples keeps her scoring pace, she will easily eclipse the 1,000 career point mark in 2016-17.

“Hannah has a lot of weapons in terms of teammates that she can utilize to bring great success to our program,” Jones said. “The balance for her will be getting everyone involved and not neglecting her offensive abilities on the floor.”

Maples – along with Madison Newman, Taylor Menzies and Emily Mendenhall – will represent the senior class for Clever and provide leadership on the floor for Coach Jones.

“Taylor was our most vocal leader last year and also probably the most attentive to detail,” he said. “She has a very nice inside game and plays solid post defense… Madison has a solid game from shooting the ball, to penetrating the defense, to making very unselfish extra passes to her teammates… Emily Mendenhall is a 6’0″ senior who was all-conference her sophomore year, and lead the team in blocks and in rebounding, will be returning for us. She not only brings size but she can run the floor as well. Maybe most importantly as an all-state pitcher two years in a row in softball, she brings leadership and she knows how to win.”

A crop of talented underclassmen should see time with the varsity this season. Sophomores Abi Menzies, Tesssa Newman and Ashten Graff each contributed on the varsity level last year, and look for freshman Allie Clevenger to have a significant impact this year.

Despite the impressive record, Clever fell in the opening round of the district tournament with a one-point loss to Springfield Catholic.

“Of course our district is not a pushover,” said Jones. “Catholic will come back much improved and we have Fair Grove who usually just reloads as well. Ash Grove and Buffalo will not be pushovers either, so getting out of our district any year is always going to be a tough thing to do. I feel like we are up to the task and will be in contention come playoff time.

“If we come together as fast as I think we can, we could be considered one of the better teams around the area.”