By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Year Five for a coach typically offers some reprieve as everyone in the program is completely immersed in the culture and expectations.
For Chad Jones, that process is no different as this year will mark a half decade at Carthage. And, with everyone returning from last season’s roster, expectations are high.
“Players understand what my expectations are and the intensity we have to practice with in order to improve during the season,” said Jones. “I’m really excited about what we have as a team. It’s extremely rewarding to watch these players buy into the process of developing over time, find their role, and work to maximize what they bring to the group. We will be an improved team from last season.”
Leading that change will be senior point guard Lexi Black and sophomore wing Hailey Fullerton.
Black is a four-year letterman that averaged 10.5 PPG and 3.8 APG, knocking down 50 3-point FG and scoring 20 or more points in five games. The 5-foot-5 veteran is one of the best two-way guards in the league.
“She will be my first four-year letter winner,” said Jones. “Just such a great kid – academically elite, dedicated three-sport athlete. She learned a lot about leadership last season – on the court, in the locker room, and it really helped with the maturation of our team in the last leg of the season where I knew we would have a good summer and carry that momentum into this winter.”
Like Black, Fullerton is on pace to be not only a four-year starter, but she’s on track for a record-breaking career.
As a freshman, the 6-foot-1 wing led the Lady Tigers in scoring (11.4 PPG), rebounds (7.1 RPG) and blocks (1.8 BPG). Fullerton also knocked down 25 3-point FG.
Her performance last season, as well as her growth on the summer circuit, has had Division One programs establishing their interest. Jones expects her to take another step forward as a sophomore.
“Hailey Fullerton is a player,” said Jones. “She is dedicated to improving her game and puts in the work year round. She was in the weight room all summer and when our school team wasn’t at a summer league or team camp she was with her travel team playing at high-level college exposure events. She is a much physically and mentally stronger player at this time than she was a year ago. She has developed new ways to attack the rim and incorporate her perimeter shooting game outside of a structured offense.”
Carthage will also have plenty of experience around Black and Fullerton with five additional seniors, four of whom started at some point, also back in the mix. Giving Jones his most experienced team in his time at Carthage.
Guards Sierrah Negrette (5’6), Sydney Peters (5’6), Riley Kabance (5’8), and Jillian Brunnert (5’7) will provide a variety of skills, giving Jones some lineup flexibility. Jones likes them all especially for their ability to defend.
“Sierrah was a reliable starter and was an asset on both ends of the court last season,” said Jones. “She is a high motor athlete that allows us to play pressure defense and run an up-tempo transition offense. Syd stepped up for us on multiple occasions last season as a solid point guard and gives us an option to run a smaller lineup with speed. She has a very high basketball IQ and can make passes like no one else on our team. She gives us a spark and over the summer proved she can play for extended minutes which will be a major asset for our team this season.
“Riley made great strides last season coming back from an injury that caused her to miss her sophomore season. Over the summer she showed that she has returned to her true form of being a fundamentally sound defender and high percentage outside shooter. She worked hard on strength and conditioning and basketball skills this summer and made significant scoring and defensive contributions in our summer league games. Jillian is a talented multi-sport athlete who is a leader and co-captain on our team. She can execute our offense in multiple sets and allows us to increase the pressure on defense and speed up the tempo in transition offense. In Jillian we have a guard who has solid defensive fundamentals, rebounds well, and can get into transition offense and attack.”
Jones is also excited about the growth of wing Karley Crowe. He believes her defensive maturity could make her an extremely impactful two-way guard.
“Karley made a significant improvement over the course of last season. Through hard work and determination she developed the defensive fundamentals our coaches were stressing to add to her already deep shooting threat. By the time district play began she had worked her way into the starting lineup.”
Classmates Mia Duncan and Jaxsyn Anderson are slightly undersized, but their toughness has allowed her to become a paint presence for Carthage.
“Mia is a small forward that can defend multiple positions and knows how to establish her presence in the paint,” said Jones. “Over the duration of the year Mia was a reliable starter who made substantial contributions on both ends of the floor. Mia has continued to develop her skills and has added new tools over the summer that will be valuable for our team this season.
“Jaxsyn gave us great minutes when our lineup needed an additional forward. She is a gifted, multi-sport athlete who continues to improve and develop her basketball skills. She was at every summer strength and conditioning session and continues to improve her basketball skills.”
With so much experience and continuity, expectations for Carthage after back-to-back sub .500 seasons. The Lady Tigers weren’t looking for moral victories last season, but were extremely competitive throughout the season, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Republic, Willard, Colgan and Springfield Catholic.
Jones is hopeful this group can put everything together and take the next step towards being extremely competitive in the COC.
“We have a group of seniors who have spent four years in our program and they are such a great group of student athletes,” said Jones. “While basketball is not a primary sport for any of them they have really done a great job managing their time in the summers and have stayed committed to each other, understanding their best games are ahead of them.”
Carthage will open the 2018-19 season on Nov. 20 at Hillcrest.