By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Branson Basketball will have a new feel in 2017-18.
The Lady Pirates are moving on from an era that saw them cap back-to-back 20-win seasons with an Elite Eight run. That includes waving goodbye to all-time great Amanda Kearney, who leaves Branson with single-game, single-season and career scoring records.
“It was very special to win the district last year,” said head coach Kip Bough. “That team had such great chemistry and competitiveness. The seniors were fantastic leaders and great kids also it was good for our school. They really enjoyed the run.
“Amanda was really special for us. Over 2000 points in her career, she set numerous records. Most importantly was a great ambassador for our program. A lot of young girls in Branson loved her and want to be just like her. She will be a huge loss.”
The loss of Kearney, as well post Terra Utz-Depriest, won’t be easy to overcome. But, the cupboard is hardly empty for Bough; Branson will have a reload, not a rebuild.
Senior Lauren Garrison is Branson’s returning leader in scoring (10.8 PPG), rebounding (4.8 RPG) and steals (2.6). Classmate Gracie Jaeger is one of the conference’s premier perimeter defenders.
Both players received All-COC honors and Bough is expecting both to produce this winter.
“I really believe you will see Lauren and Gracie take huge steps this year,” said Bough. “Lauren has really developed her 3-point shot and ball handling.”
Junior guard Karis Goodwin is the lone returner along with Garrison and Jaeger.
The newcomers are headlined by seniors that haven’t necessarily played varsity basketball, but have still played a ton of games and aren’t as inexperienced as it seems.
Senior Britton Ellis gives Branson a player that can stretch the floor with her 3-point shooting ability. Classmates Audrey Arnette, Haley Johnson and Isabel Holloway will all provide leadership and depth.
Sophomores Sidney Davis and Maddie Pardeck should also figure into the rotation.
The darkhorse will be 6-foot-2 sophomore Priscilla Williams. The Houston transfer was offered by the University of Houston before she even played a high school game. Williams is widely considered one of the best 2020 prospects in the nation.
“Priscilla is 6-foot-2 guard who is very athletic and long,” said Bough. “Her work ethic is incredible and her ability to make friends quickly, along with her competitive spirit. She is also a great kid.”
Several coaches in the COC have mentioned Branson as a team that will be considered one of the favorites to win the league in what should be an incredibly competitive conference race top to bottom.
Bough, in his 11th year at Branson, knows just how dangerous the conference is top to bottom. If the Lady Pirates want to make yet another run in March, they’ll have to get past some of the Ozarks’ most elite programs, some of which they may have to beat twice.
“I think you could see a lot of teams at the top of the conference,” said Bough. “Ozark is good, Nixa is good, Neosho is good, Carl Junction is good, Willard is good, Republic is good and you could see Webb City win a lot of games this year. It could be a log jam at the top of the conference. It all may come down to injuries and momentum.”
Branson opens the 2017-18 season at Central on Nov. 20.