By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Fair Grove battles high expectations and 2018-19 will be no different in Jenny Talbert’s ninth season as head coach.
Talbert and the Lady Eagles return essentially five starters from last year’s team, one that advanced to the Class 3 – District 11 semifinals before losing to Clever. A loss that has helped build a fire in what could be a very special team.
“We knew the semifinal match up would be a great game,” said Talbert. “We weren’t pleased with how we performed and we have talked about that game a ton since the end of our season. We definitely want to get past the semifinals of districts this year.”
Returning so much firepower could make Fair Grove one of the most explosive teams in the Ozarks. Senior wing – and Drury commit – Alana Findley has been one of the state’s most productive players throughout her career, entering the season with 1,509 points, 961 rebounds, 294 steals and 101 blocks.
She averaged 22.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.7 SPG and 1.4 BPG as a junior. She has the 19th most career rebounds in state history entering this season, with the chance to become one of the most decorated players in program history.
“She improved in numerous areas this summer; her ball handling, outside shooting and guard work have all seen improvements,” said Talbert. “We have challenged her to improve different aspects of her game so she will be tougher to guard, which in turn will make our team better. I really think she will have a great senior season.”
Her partner in crime is 6-foot-2 Evangel commit Harley Maxwell. As a junior, Maxwell was one of the area’s top post players, averaging 17.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 1.5 BPG.
Maxwell’s game has taken off over the last 15 months, with her nearly doubling her scoring from her sophomore season.
“Harley has really developed into a great player for us,” said Talbert. “We knew she had potential from the time she entered HS but she really has worked so hard to make herself such a force. She had a great summer and we expect her to dominate inside and also step outside and showcase her shooting ability. Defensively she has made great strides as well. I’m excited to see what she does this season.”
Fair Grove will also depend on a dynamic guard quartet to create pace and apply defensive pressure, as well as knock down shots.
Seniors Lexie Sutherland and Cydney Fullerton started as juniors, finishing second and third in 3-point FG makes. Sutherland will also be attending Evangel next season. Fullerton will again take on the task of defending the opposing team’s best player.
Junior Maddie Clark and sophomore Brooklyn Luna are unique in very different ways. Clark is one of the most athletic kids in the state, a three-sport athlete that owns a state championship in the 400M. That has helped make her one of the top defenders in the Ozarks.
Luna will take over point guard duties and has the ability to create offense for herself or others, which will help take the pressure off of everyone else offensively.
Senior Kalyn Wheat will provide depth, leadership and toughness to the frontcourt.
Fair Grove will be challenged in the non-conference schedule, with Fayetteville (Ark.), Webb City, Hartville, Blue Eye and three quality tournaments, but the conference and district championship road will still likely go through Strafford and conference newcomer Clever.
Getting through either or both programs will be demanding, but Talbert is confident her team has the potential to answer that call.
“I think that if each girl accepts their role and does what is in the best interest of the team then we can go far,” said Talbert. “We have great ability and leadership and as long as each girl strives to reach their potential, works hard each and every day and keeps the team as their top priority then I really think we will be in the mix for both a conference and a district title.”
Fair Grove will open the 2018-19 season on Nov. 20, at home, against Mountain Grove.