By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last year’s 7-19 season wasn’t ideal for Aurora or D.J. Gutscher, but it was part of the process.
In just his first year at Aurora, Gutscher was tasked with laying his foundation for Aurora Basketball. And, while there were some growing pains, the Lady Houn’ Dawgs welcome back three starters from last year’s team and a group of girls acclimated with Gutscher’s expectations and system.
“Having continuity will certainly help as we get the season going,” said Gutscher. “We will be able to build off the foundation we started last year. It takes time for the players to get use to a new coach and for a coach to understand how to get the most out of their players. The girls who are returning from last season will be able to help reinforce our culture and we will continue to add layers to the foundation we started last year.”
Senior Ashley Vaught, junior Kortney Juracek and sophomore Elizabeth Martin will all bring back valuable experience.
Vaught, a 5-foot-2 guard, averaged 4.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG and is the team’s only senior. Juracek is a 5-foot-2 guard that is one of the team’s top defenders. Martin is a 5-foot-7 versatile athlete that is the team’s returning leader in scoring (7.7 PPG) and rebounds (4.6 RPG).
All three will see increased roles this season.
“Ashley’s leadership will be vital in the progress we make this season,” said Gutscher. “She has a lot of varsity experience. Kortney is very coachable player who gained a lot of confidence in herself last year. If she continues to stay on that path she will develop into more of a two way player and will be a key contributor. Elizabeth has the ability to play inside and out on both ends of the floor. She is a great finisher at the basket and will look to be more dynamic offensively.”
Aurora also has several other returners that should made a larger impact this season including juniors Nallely Martinez, Chloe Ryan and Kaysie Carr.
“Nallely has good athleticism and put a lot of time in the off season improving individual skills,” said Gutscher. “I expect her to grow a lot this season in her decision making abilities as she gains more experience. Chloe improved a lot last season and got a lot of varsity experience this summer. She can shoot the ball well and will continue to develop as she gets more comfortable with the speed of varsity action.
“Kaysie played as a freshman and did not play her sophomore year. She is very athletic and a good on ball defender. She will be asked to help run the point guard position this season.”
Maybe an X-factor for the Lady Dawgs season will be the continued development of 6-foot-1 sophomore Brookelynn Sandoval. Her size and length will make her one of the most imposing paint presences in the Big 8.
“Brookelynn will bring needed height to our roster,” said Gutscher. “She had a good summer and made a lot of improvements to her game.”
The merger of the Big 8 and COC Small, along with the addition of Nevada, makes the Big 8 one of the most talented and deepest leagues in the Ozarks.
The conference realignment, along with a difficult nonconference schedule, is something that Gutscher is excited about.
“The conference as a whole will have a new look,” said Gutscher. “For us last season we played the original big 8 teams and all of the east division but one team. I think there will be some exciting basketball with in the conference. There are a lot of traditionally good girls’ basketball programs competing in both divisions. The crossover games between the east and west division will also add a new dynamic that you don’t see in other conferences.”