By Jordan Burton
For the second year in a row Nixa and Jennifer Perryman will be replacing a First-Team All-COC-Large guard.
Last season, Nixa struggled to a 3-7 start while adjusting to playing without standout guard Toshua Leavitt. The Lady Eagles finished the season by winning 12 of their final 16 games before losing to Republic in the Class 5 – District 12 championship.
But, this time around both coach and team are a little more equipped to handle the loss of another great guard – this time standout Shelby Ewing.
“Tosh was one of the best point guards to come through here and Shelby was able to learn under her for a few years so losing both of them leaves a void that we are looking to fill,” said Perryman. “Luckily I have a few who are ready to step in and take over those roles.”
In all, Perryman loses just a pair of seniors from last year’s team and returns one of the area’s top sophomore duos in Kelsey Biro and Taylor Arnold.
Biro is the team’s returning leading scorer (11.2 PPG, 3.4 APG) and Arnold (9.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG) has the second-high average and was one of the team’s most versatile defenders last year. They will be a major part of a balanced Nixa attack this winter.
“Kelsey missed quite a bit of the season last year due to an injury but we are looking for her to make a major impact on this team,” said Perryman. “Her size and athleticism for a guard is hard to match. Her ability to score the ball will give us a lot of options offensively.
“Taylor has the ability to see the floor very well and is very versatile on both ends of the floor.”
With so many players adjusting to new roles last year, depth and versatility will be a highlight of this year’s roster.
Seniors Paige Wells (9.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and Lakyn Wools (4.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG) provide experience and intangibles. Junior 6-foot forwards Bissett Michaelson (6.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Halley Wiggins (4.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG) add length and athleticism to the frontline.
Perryman – a defensive junkie – is hoping to use that size and athleticism (Biro is also 6-foot) to aid Nixa’s defense. Last year the Lady Eagles held 11 opponents to 40 points or fewer.
“This is the most athletic team from top to bottom that I have seen in a while,” said Perryman. “We also have quite a bit of size to go along with it. Those factors combined with the fact that they love to play defense could be key to some success.”
The biggest key to Nixa’s season will be how quickly its young guards can replace the void left by departed guards Ewing and Kayla Goss.
Those duties will likely fall to a pair of underclassmen; sophomore Lakin Copeland and freshman Emily Edwards.
“Lakin Copeland and Emily Edwards are both two kids we will really look to fill our point guard role,” said Perryman. “Lakin has come a long way in a short time and the more experience she gets, the better she becomes. Emily is very skilled and very technical and her work ethic will fit right in with this squad.”
After back-to-back district championship losses to Republic, the Lady Eagles are eager to get back into the Class 5 state tournament.
To do so it’ll take Nixa navigating a district that is loaded with familiar teams – Republic, Neosho, Carthage and Joplin – all teams that are in the COC Large are soon-to-be (Joplin).
With the addition of Carl Junction to the conference this year, the conference championship becomes even that much more of a gauntlet this year.
“I feel like this year might be the most balanced the COC has been in a while and each night of play, every team will have to bring their best game to come out a winner,” said Perryman. “I feel that last years’ experience for our young kids will really help when it comes to conference play.”