By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It’s not easy to top back-to-back trips to the Class 4 final four, yet expectations remain high in Carl Junction.
Head coach Brad Shorter’s team finished with a 26-4 record last season, falling in the state championship game to Incarnate Word Academy.
Shorter hopes the experience gained over the past two seasons pays dividends to this year’s squad.
“I feel 16-17’s season encounter was the most beneficial experience to the point for our program,” Shorter said, “It helped calm our kids for our 17-18 appearance. With that being said, last year certainly tested our program and exposed some weaknesses we need to improve on.”
A pair of graduated seniors depart the Carl Junction program in Megan Scott (10.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Kate Dreilling (2.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.5 apg).
A four-year starter, the 6-foot-2 Scott continues her basketball career this season at Pittsburg State University.
“We lost two very quality players in Megan Scott and Kate Dreiling,” Shorter said. “Those two left big shoes to fill, but I feel we have some kids that are up to the challenge.”
The Lady Bulldogs return a quintet of players with valuable varsity experience, including Megan’s younger sister, 6-foot-3 junior Katie Scott (16.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.8 apg).
Scott could reach the 1,000-point plateau this season.
Other key returnees include 5-foot-10 junior Shila Winder, 5-foot-10 senior Kenzee Shanks, 5-foot-10 junior Taylor Hughes and 5-foot-6 junior Dani Wrensch.
Wrensche, the team’s point guard, missed last season due to a torn ACL.
With a host of returning players with final four experience, Shorter feels his team should be mentally and physically prepared for this season’s challenges.
“Experience is our biggest X-factor,” Shorter said. “Our kids have experienced this game at the highest level, and I hope that proves to be helpful.”
Carl Junction also welcomes six newcomers to the varsity roster, including 5-foot-6 junior Courtney Mertens, 5-foot-7 junior Ashley Stokes, 5-foot-6 junior Brett Chappel, 5-foot-8 junior Taylor Storm, 5-foot-11 sophomore Hannah Lee and 5-foot-7 freshman Jessa Hylton.
If Carl Junction is to enjoy further postseason success, Shorter believes the team will need to make strides in a few key areas.
“Our 18-19 emphasis will be on defensive growth, scoring productivity, ball-handling and game efficiency,” Shorter said, “We hope to progress as the season moves forward to give ourselves a shot at making a run late in the year.”
Following a Nov. 15 jamboree with McDonald County, Webb City and Mt. Vernon, Carl Junction opens its season Nov. 26 in the Freeman Sports Medicine Carl Junction Classic.