By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last season’s district championship, the second in Jennifer Perryman’s first five seasons, was the high point in what was another great season for Nixa.
Despite a rollercoaster end to the season, the Lady Eagles were able to top Neosho – led by COC Player of the Year Makayla Hayes – before shocking rival Republic, ending the Lady Tigers streak of three consecutive district championships.
Nixa lost to Republic twice during the regular season, both in the Pink & White Lady Classic, as well as COC play.
“Last year’s seniors had been chasing that District title for four years so to see them be able to come together with our underclassmen and finally get over that mental challenge of beating Republic was extremely joyous,” said Perryman. “I have looked the celebration videos and pictures of our kids smiling over and over because that is what it’s all about! When the final buzzer rang, I was so proud of what our kids had accomplished and I was just lucky to be a part of it.
“I have been involved with this program for the last 15 years and I feel extremely blessed every day I drive to this school. We have accomplished a lot over the last 5 years since I took over and none of it is possible without the talented players, dedicated staff, and supportive administration I have been able to work with each year. The traditions we have in this program make the future of it that much more exciting.”
Now, Perryman and the Lady Eagles will look to start a streak of their own, with the return of five full or part-time starters and 11 players that saw varsity action, led by Division Two commit Emily Edwards (Rockhurst).
Edwards, a junior, averaged 8.8 PPG and is known as one of the top defenders in the Ozarks.
“Emily is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen,” said Perryman. “When you combine that with her natural talent, there is no telling what she can do. She has really focused on her defense the last two seasons. She is such a fundamental player and she has really worked on footwork and speed in order to be just as efficient on the defensive end as the offensive end.”
Junior Gabby Nielsen (5.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.8 SPG) also made tremendous strides a year ago, becoming one of the most improved players in the COC. Classmate and volleyball standout Kenzie Hines will also take on a larger role this season. Seniors Lakin Copeland and Paige Sportsman also return for Perryman, who applauds the duos defense and intangibles.
“Gabby is one of the most athletic and talented players in the area. She has a second motor to her that not many other kids have,” said Perryman. “She is an incredible teammate that our kids really respect. Kenzie has one of the highest basketball IQ’s I have ever seen in an high school athlete. That, combined with her athleticism, will be a big advantage to our team.
“Lakin is incredible leader on and off of the floor. She has battled through some tough health circumstances just to play the game she loves and give to her teammates. I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Lakin. Paige is one of the best defenders in this area. She thrives on defense and plays with a passion that doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Sophomores Tori Yantis, Sara Sieden, and Raegan Thomason should also see varsity minutes this winter. Classmate Katie Kamies, and freshman sister Allie, should also figure into the equation, giving the Lady Eagles plenty of depth and athleticism.
“Tori, Sara, and Raegan will be huge contributors on varsity this year as sophomores. They played six quarters a night last year between freshman and JV and that experience on the court is what really made them ready to step on to the varsity team as sophomores. I am also looking to the Kamies sisters to play varsity minutes. Their athleticism and work ethic will quickly elevate them to the next level.”
Nixa will be without standout senior and Henderson State commit Kelsey Biro, who is likely to miss the entire season with an injury.
Perryman did note how much the program will miss her presence on the floor, but she’s fully expected to still be a participating member of the team. This is nothing new for the Lady Eagles, who have faced as much, if not more, adversity in the form of injuries as any program in the COC over the last few years.
The COC will again be a gauntlet. Last year, all three of Nixa’s conference, and seven overall, came by seven points or fewer.
The addition of Joplin shouldn’t sway the balance of power in the short term, but four of the league’s First Team All-COC selections return and that doesn’t include Branson’s Priscilla Williams and Carthage D-1 prospect Hailey Fullerton.
Five different programs have made Elite Eight runs since 2013, further proof that the COC is the deepest basketball league in the Ozarks.
“The COC is one of the toughest conferences in the state and very well coached from east to west,” said Perryman. “Every night is a battle no matter who you are playing. If you look at the past several years, the conference winner was determined on the very last night of play and that shows how competitive it is. The team that plays most consistent night after night will have the best shot to win it all.”
Nixa will open the 2018-19 season on Nov. 20 at Parkview.