From pregame dance sessions to the most historic run in school history, last year was a special season for Strafford.
Steve Frank’s third season saw the Lady Indians go 30-3, bringing home the first state championship in school history.
To win his first state championship as a player or coach – with his two daughters on the team – is a feeling that Frank will never forget.
“It was such a special year,” said Frank. “To have the opportunity to coach your own kids and watch them be rewarded for all the countless hours they have put in over all the years prior to last season was special. As a player I played in three Final Fours and two state championships and didn’t win the big one. I had several teams as a coach that should have made it but fell short. At Seymour we were 30-0 going to the final four and didn’t get it done.
“As a coach I felt like my window is closing, as I near retirement. They’ve heard all the stories of the teams and players that should have won it all. Over the years they’ve come to understand what you have to do to reach that level. To finally reach that goal and have your daughters run over and jump in your arms is the most special feeling you can get. In the press conference Hayley said ‘it has always been his biggest goal as a coach and we wanted to do it for him’ was just special.”
After that magical season, Coach Frank and Strafford must adjust to a new role in life – being the hunted rather than the hunter.
While it may be an adjustment, the Lady Indians return more than enough firepower to repeat as state champ.
It all starts with all-state senior guard Abby Oliver and all-state sophomore Hayley Frank.
Oliver – a College of the Ozarks commit – averaged 18 PPG and 4.2 APG last year. Frank – one of the state’s most highly-touted prospects – led the team in scoring (20 PPG), rebound (11.4 RPG) and assists (6 APG). She shot a blistering 69% from the field, 56% from 3 and 89% from the line.
Oliver and Frank are one of the best duos in all of Missouri.
“Abby is our quarterback; she does a great job of being a coach on the floor,” said Coach Frank. “She is a great leader, playmaker and slasher. Abby prides herself with her defense, she guards very well in the open floor.
“Hayley is very versatile, she can run the point guard spot and take you down low and post you up, making a match up problem for other teams. Her basketball IQ is extremely high and she does a great job understanding situations on the floor.”
Throughout Strafford’s postseason run Coach Frank had preached the importance of balance and having someone other than Oliver and Hayley Frank take on a bigger role.
He got that in the form of Zoey Mullings and Kayley Frank; both of whom are back this year.
Mullings, a junior forward, scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in the state title game, doing so in 18 minutes off the bench.
Kayley Frank, Hayley’s twin sister, routinely defended the opposing team’s best player regardless of position.
Both players add size and versatility to Strafford’s rotation, but will also be counted on to take on more of a scoring role this season – something either player is capable of doing.
“Zoey is very versatile and can play inside and out,” said Frank. “Zoey will play a huge part of this year’s development. We will rely on her for her rebounding, and ability to score this season. Kayley can play any spot on the floor because of her strength and quickness. She really prides herself on her ability to guard on the perimeter and go down inside and guard as well. We will rely on her for more scoring, and physical play this season.”
Also returning is reserve guard Kyndall Compton.
She earned valuable experience backing up Oliver last season, but was also a standout on JV leading the team in every major stat category.
The Lady Indians will miss the experience of seniors Kaylee Larimer and Logan Eden, but Strafford’s incoming freshman class – which went undefeated in junior high – is loaded with talent that could make an immediate impact.
Many of those freshmen made the trip to Columbia last March to watch both Final Four games.
Those freshmen, along with junior transfer Alissa Collett, should find meaningful varsity minutes early one.
Coach Frank is looking forward to the added dynamic that all six newcomers will have, specifically the depth and competitiveness that will be added to each practice. He believes that Collett will be a valuable piece as she continues to grow more comfortable in the system.
The biggest key for Strafford this season will be its ability to handle the pressure and manage the expectations that come with being a reigning state champion and returning the bulk of the roster.
In recent years Walnut Grove and Crane have been able to string together multiple state championships with a similar team structure.
Strafford could be the next dynasty from the Ozarks.
“I felt like last season we were able to fly under the radar for most of the season, keeping the pressure off our kids,” said Frank. “This year we will have a little more pressure on our self, and have to mentally be ready to play every game. Last year’s run to the state title was an awesome experience for the kids and the program. This summer and fall we have tried to turn the page and really focus on our individual and team needs and weaknesses. We have put last year on the back burner and have a whole new focus on a whole new season, remaining humble and hungry.”