By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One year after achieving the most wins in school history, Licking enters the 2018-19 campaign hungry for more.
The Lady Wildcats capped a 26-3 season with a pair of heavyweights in the Class 3 tournament. Licking defeated No. 2 ranked South Callaway in the sectional round before falling to eventual state champion Strafford in the quarterfinal.
The tournament experience and competition at the highest level was an incredible learning experience, according to head coach Stephen Rissler, entering his seventh year at Licking.
“The change in the level of physicality as you advance through the state playoffs is huge,” Rissler said.” We experienced first-hand that you aren’t getting to the final four without spending a significant amount of time in the weight room to go along with your basketball training.”
Three-year starters McKenzie Cook and Dalrayn Feringa move on from the program due to graduation, along with Taylor Dawson, who missed the entire season with a torn ACL.
Despite the loss of two starters, there’s plenty of room for optimism in Licking … and for good reason.
All-state selection Karlee Holland (19.7 ppg, 4 apg) returns to once again spearhead the Lady Wildcat attack.
While the 5-foot-7 junior has operated primarily out of the point guard position thus far in her career, Rissler plans to expand Holland’s role this season. A strong freshman class should make an immediate impact on the roster.
“The addition of another ball handler will allow Karlee to play off the ball more which will get her more shots,” Rissler said. “She has been trying to add muscle to her frame and will be noticeably stronger this season.”
Holland also is in position to capture Licking’s all-time scoring record this season, set by Megan Smith in 2015.
Joining her in the rotation will seniors Lexi Hadix (41 made 3-pointers, 7.4 apg), Lainy Hadix (2.9 apg, 2.1 rpg) and Athena Hood (3.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg). The guard trio provides Licking plenty of scoring, range and athleticism.
Junior post Abby Moncrief (4.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and sophomore guard Anna Sullins (3.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg) also return to the lineup.
Rissler hopes the state tournament experience provides a big boost to his roster in terms of both leadership and experience.
“The girls are disappointed with their performance in the quarterfinal game last year and want a shot at redemption, but there are no guarantees we will even get there,” Rissler said. “We can’t look ahead. We will play one game at a time and hope for some luck along the way.”
The Lady Wildcats already received a share of good luck this season with the addition of a strong freshman class.
Kylie Taylor and Kiley Ingram give Licking multiple guard options. Taylor, a 5-foot-4 point guard, will allow Holland to work in space off the ball, while the 5-foot-11 Ingram will bring plenty of athleticism to the defensive end of the court.
Sophomore Tomi Rose is the team’s best rebounder at 5-foot-8, according to Rissler.
A promising summer and improved schedule could also bode well for the Lady Wildcats heading into the season.
“Our weakness has been physical toughness and rebounding.” Rissler said. “We have focused on becoming stronger and tougher over the last 7 months. “We played as hard a summer and fall schedule as we could and added South Callaway, Thayer, Hartville and St. James to the schedule this year for non-conference opponents.”
That strengthened schedule will put the Lady Wildcats to the test immediately.
Following a Nov. 13 jamboree with Mansfield, Catholic and Hillcrest, Licking heads to Jefferson City for its season opener Nov. 17 against South Callaway.