By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Throughout the basketball season, Ozarks Sports Zone ranks the top teams in Southwest Missouri based on dominance by class, essentially the pound-for-pound comparison of those teams compared to the best in the state. Rankings are sponsored by CoxHealth. Below, you’ll also find our preseason awards. If you’d like to nominate a player for O-Zone Player of the Week, please forward stats and information to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s no secret that the best girls’ basketball in Missouri is played in the Ozarks. Last year four of the five classes saw a team from Southwest Missouri advance to the Final Four. This year we could potentially see six or seven teams on the girls’ side alone make trips to Columbia. The Pink and White might have one of its strongest local fields ever and the cross-class games in the regular season are about as intriguing as we’ve seen. Strafford vs. Lebanon, Walnut Grove playing Ozark and Rogersville, Skyline visiting Nixa, Clever at Willard, Pierce City vs. Cassville and Licking in the Rolla Tournament will be just some of the great storylines throughout the winter. And, to add bulletin board material to every locker room in the Ozarks, here are our Preseason Girls Basketball Power Rankings.
Player of the Year: Hayley Frank, Strafford
Co-Offensive MVP: Kourtney Shipley, Bradleyville & Piper Francis, MV-BT/Liberty
Defensive MVP: Harper Little, Clever
Freshman of the Year: Faith Gilkey, Walnut Grove
Breakout Player of the Year: Kamryn Mack, Lebanon
Newcomer of the Year: Priscilla Williams, Branson
Coach of the Year: J.J. Adamson, Willard
1. Strafford (C3: 33-0)
There’s no question who the best team in Class 3 is, but Strafford is probably the best team in Missouri right now. Having All-Everything junior Mizzou commit Hayley Frank is huge, but Zoey Mullings, Kayley Frank and Kyndall Compton back, as well as a loaded sophomore class, is huge. The addition of Madison Chittenden well help offset the graduation of Abby Oliver. The Lady Indians enter the season with a 49-game winning streak. The bullseye on their back is big, their collective talent may be bigger.
2. Skyline (C2: 31-2)
Skyline is fresh off winning another state title under Kevin Cheek and this year’s group may be even better. Class 2 Player of the Year – and Pitt State signee – Kaylee DaMitz is back. As is fellow four-year letterman Savannah Owen. Neither of them have ever ended a season without a trip to Columbia. Classmates Sarah Cunningham and Kristen Miller, as well as junior Autumn Garrett, will allow Cheek to pressure 84 feet and make opponents hate life. For Skyline to repeat they’ll have to get through a gauntlet locally in Class 2. But, the Lady Tigers have been to five straight Final Fours.
3. Walnut Grove (C1: 28-5)
Walnut Grove is coming off yet another Final Four run, the sixth in a row for Rory Henry. This year’s group will be slightly different without a true post presence, but Class 1 POY Bayley Harman is back, joined by Grace McPhail, Grace Miller and a loaded freshman class. Walnut Grove also stuffed the schedule, adding Class 5 Ozark and Class 4 Rogersville. Final Four No. 7 is extremely likely.
4. Rogersville (C4: 21-7)
Rogersville feels like its season ended prematurely last year and the Lady Cats will likely have a chance to rectify that with several key cogs back from that team. Junior Jordyn Gault is the reigning COC Small POY, classmate Maci McHenry is the team’s rebounding leader and senior Hailey Brown is one of the best point guards in the area. Rogersville has the gritty, defensive mentality of coach Denny McHenry, which could be exactly what LR needs for a trip to the Final Four.
5. Thayer (C2: 26-2)
Cecil Meyer’s first season at Thayer was about as good as it can get, missing only a deep March run. But, the Lady Bobcats return SCA POY Julie Stone, senior point guard Caity Jones and a ton of other productive pieces from last year. Year Two in Meyer’s system will only make things easier for Thayer, who will again be the beast of Highway 60. Freshman Shelby Coursey could also give Thayer an element few others in Class 2 have. Size.
6. Carl Junction (C4: 27-4)
The Lady Bulldogs were one of four teams to make a Final Four run last year, but unlike the others it was the first time CJ had been there. Ever. The Lady Bulldogs graduated some key pieces, but welcome back Pitt State signee Megan Scott and her sophomore sister Katie Scott, who might be the most difficult post tandem to defend in the Ozarks. Brad Shorter has enough returning to get this team back to the Final Four.
7. Mount Vernon (C3: 23-7)
Teams that return nearly everything seem to be a theme this year and Mount Vernon will be among the most dangerous. Dusty Killingsworth and company won a district championship before having their season ended by Strafford. D-1 prospect and reigning Big 8 POY Cameron Call is back, as are stud classmates Caitlin Hicks, Camryn Eldridge and Ashlyn McCanless. MV also brings in a solid crop of freshmen. They play fast, score in bunches and come at you relentlessly. Expect a playoff rematch with Strafford.
8. Clever (C3: 21-7)
Yet another overshadowed team that is insanely good in Class 3. Clever lost seven games last year, four of which were by six points or less and the other three came against Strafford (2) and Rogersville. Dan Jones has a deep and balanced group, led by Harper Little, Abi Menzies and Allie Clevenger. The Lady Jays have incredible depth and come at you in waves. They’re the preseason favorite in the SWCL, but they might be good enough to give Strafford a scare too.
9. Branson (C5: 25-5)
On one hand Kip Bough must replace all-time leading scorer Amanda Kearney, on the other he reloads with a talented roster. Seniors Lauren Garrison and Gracie Jaeger were good enough to keep Branson in the hunt for conference and district titles, but the addition of sophomore Priscilla Williams might make the Lady Pirates the best Class 5 team in the Ozarks.
10. Ozark (C5: 16-9)
David Brewer and company lost some firepower from last year’s team, but he returns one of the best young players in the area in sophomore guard Madi Braden and one of the most athletic posts in senior D-1 volleyball player Macey Putt. The transfer of junior guard Maggie Phipps and the development of that class as a whole will be huge, but Brewer will have plenty of talent at his disposal.
11. Pierce City (C2: 25-5)
Well, Pierce City was loaded last year, and they bring back everyone which by default means they’re loaded again. SRVC POY Belle Gobluski is back, the most productive point guard in the SRVC is also back in Ragan Blinzer and post anchor Kendyl Hayward also returns. This is a team that made an Elite Eight run before losing to Skyline last year. A deep run could again be in their future, but can they get over the hump against Skyline?
12. Wheatland (C1: 24-3)
Just one year removed from establishing a new single-season win record, Wheatland could be the best threat to knock off Walnut Grove in all of Missouri. Junior Madi Sutt was a 20-10 player as a sophomore, Gracie Fatino and Aleah Asare were do-everything guards for the Lady Mules. A strong freshman class and the arrival of a foreign exchange student could provide some much-needed depth.
13. Licking (C3: 23-6)
Steven Rissler has yet another team that will win 20 games and be the favorite in the Frisco League. Sophomore point guard Karlee Holland is one of the best in the state and Licking has plenty of athletes and shooters around her that help accentuate her game. Unfortunately, they’re in Class 3, but this will be one of the better teams in the area regardless of class.
14. Blue Eye (C2: 21-5)
This is might sleeper pick to win a state championship; Blue Eye is that good on paper. The Lady Bulldogs literally return everyone, get back Kenzie Hobbs who missed nearly all of last year with a torn ACL and add All-COC junior guard Taylor Arnold. Then there’s sophomore Kohnnar Patton, who is one of the best combo guards in the Ozarks. Ken Elfrink has star power, depth and balance. This team has a 2-3-year window to do some serious damage.
15. Bradleyville (C1: 23-5)
The Lady Eagles had a bitter end to last season, getting upset in the district championship game. But, Autumn Thomas returns all of the major pieces from that team, led by sneaky 5-foot-3 Class 1 POY candidate Kourtney Shipley. Her little (big) sister, 5-foot-9 sophomore Gracie Shipley, is poised for a breakout year for Bradleyville. Also, this team is opposite of Walnut Grove, Wheatland, Hermitage, etc. on the bracket, giving the Ozarks the possibility of two Final Four teams.
Knocking on the door: Fair Grove, Hermitage, Fordland, Waynesville, Camdenton, Crane, Bolivar, Cassville, Willard, Hartville, Lamar, Spokane