By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
David Brewer’s fifth season at Ozark is one that looks like a rebuild on paper, with just three lettermen returning, but that may be far from the case.
The Lady Tigers return All-COC selections Macey Putt and Madi Braden on a team that was five points away from grabbing a share of the COC-Large and playing for a district championship.
The two Branson losses, coming just two weeks apart by a total of five points, were part of five Ozark losses by four points or fewer. The fact that Branson went on to make an Elite Eight run makes the 52-50 district semifinal loss even tougher.
“The Branson game was difficult for us,” said Brewer. “We led entire first three quarters while doing a good job on Kearney. We had three minute span of doing a poor job against Branson’s halfcourt trap and we missed a lot of opportunities. It’s a difficult loss to swallow.”
While Kearney has moved on to start her career at D-2 power Harding, Ozark returns the best inside-out duo in the COC with Putt and Braden.
Putt, a 6-foot-2 Arkansas State volleyball commit, averaged 9.8 points and a team-high 5.9 rebounds last year. Braden, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, was one of the best freshmen in Missouri last year after averaging 13.3 points and 3.1 assists, shooting a blistering 41% from deep with 64 makes.
“Macey has been a bright spot for us,” said Brewer. “Knowing that she was a volleyball first kid we weren’t sure what to expect as her career moved a lot, but she is athletic, talented and has been an offensive and defensive force for us. When she plays totally engaged and motivated, she is a great basketball player!
“Madi has improved her game from a year ago. She will have to adapt to gaining a lot of defensive attention that wasn’t applied to her last year, but she is a baller and look for only good things from her the next three years.”
With five of the team’s seven top scorers from last year gone, Brewer will have to reestablish roles and depth.
Seniors Tara McCormack, Tanner Covington and Abby Braden will provide leadership and stability.
Juniors Brooke Pace and Annie Scheer return after playing in 11 varsity games last year. Sophomores Katie Mayes and Olivia Hanks, as well as freshman Anna Hitt, are expected to compete for minutes.
Hitt had a phenomenal summer, even drawing the eye of noted talent evaluator Bret McCormick for her polished skillset and high basketball IQ.
The Lady Tigers could also see a boost from transfer Maggie Phipps. The 5-foot-7 junior scored nearly 800 points in two seasons at New Covenant Academy. Phipps has also been among the state’s steal leaders in each of her last two seasons, averaging five per game.
Per usual, Ozark will be in the hunt for conference and district championships. How far this team is able to go will hinge on their ability to identify and accept roles and acclimated to high-level basketball.
With Glendale, West Plains, Fayetteville (Ark.) and Walnut Grove all on the schedule before Christmas, Brewer is welcoming his team to a trial by fire.
“We will be young and athletic,” said Brewer. “There will be a lot of jobs up for grabs which should create an intense practice environment. That will pay off for us down the line managed in the right way. We have a chance to be pretty good, but have a lot of things to get figured out early on.”
Ozark will open the 2017-18 season as the defending champions of the Rogers Great 8 Classic on Nov. 27-Dec. 2.