By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Typically, a 24-win season with a conference and district championship would be a banner year. But, Blue Eye isn’t most programs and last year’s Elite Eight loss to Skyline has only fueled the fire for the Lady Bulldogs to make good on last season’s run.
“Obviously, we did not finish last year as we may have wanted to but getting back to that level is the first step,” said Blue Eye coach Ken Elfrink. “We finished the year 24-6 and got the taste of post season. We had a great summer and the kids have put in a lot of individual work in the off season. The way we lost last year in the quarterfinals left the biggest impact on us because we did not represent the team we really were and lot that credit goes to Coach Cheek and Skyline.”
Entering Elfrink’s 21st season at Blue Eye, this could be the deepest and most explosive roster he’s ever had. One that has that many of the elements necessary for a deep playoff run, starting with the dynamic duo of senior Taylor Arnold and junior Kohnnar Patton.
Arnold, an Evangel commit, averaged 15.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 2.2 SPG for the Lady Bulldogs. Patton, a 5-foot-6 point guard, was an All-State selection behind 17.5 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.8 RPG and 3.7 SPG.
Both guards have great size and are the catalyst for Blue Eye’s chaotic style of play.
“Kohnnar and Taylor both make me look better as a coach,” said Elfrink. “They are both competitors and both have continued to work on their individual game. Kohnnar and Taylor both commit a lot of their spare time to improve their game getting up shots and putting in the work it takes. They both have been in the weight room and gotten stronger and I believe just the experience of getting to the level we did last year is huge for their game going forward.”
What made Blue Eye one of the top teams in Missouri last year and what makes them arguably the favorite in Class 2 this season is what they have around Arnold and Patton.
Senior guards Kenedi Larson and Ayshia Bettlach are lightning quick guards that perform on both ends of the floor. Larson, an All-District pick, averaged 8.4 PPG, 2.6 APG and 3 SPG. Bettlach, an All-SWCL selection and Evangel commit averaged 6.5 PPG and 3.2 APG.
Both not only relieve offensive pressure on Arnold and Patton, but they’re two of the best two-way guards in the SWCL.
“Kenedi can stretch the floor with her shooting ability but is also a slasher who can get to the rim and finish,” said Elfrink. “She is athletic and has great instincts and quick hands; she’s a crafty defensive player. Ayshia can run point and also shooting guard. Shoots it well from outside and can handle the ball. She is aggressive defensively and has the ability to attack the rim and finish.”
Classmate Kenzie Hobbs, who started as a freshman and sophomore before sustaining a torn ACL, gives Blue Eye another player than can facilitate offense and create ball pressure.
“One of the hardest working and tough kid who competes at a high level,” said Elfrink. “Started to come on strong at the end of last season and expect her to continue to progress. Provides us with great leadership on the floor.”
Senior Hope Smith (5’8) and junior Maddie Box (5’5) aren’t big, but their competitive spirit allows them to play much bigger than their listed size.
Smith will be the team’s lone, true post player and Box could see minutes at any position.
“Hope will provide us with some size inside with her length,” said Elfrink. “A very good defensive player rebounder who understands her role on this team. Hope was injured late in the season last year and missed the last 9 games. I expect her to bounce back and provide us with great minutes in the post this year for us.
“Maddie is a firecracker and competes at high level. A tough kid who has the ability to shoot from the outside but also attack the rim. A gritty player, good rebounder for her size and brings us that blue collar look.”
Despite all the returners, Elfrink believes there are several other players that will see varsity minutes.
Senior Lucy Feagans and junior Jaclyn Brown are two players that have spent a significant amount of time around the program. Freshmen Kyla Warren and twins Avery and Riley Arnold will also provide guard depth and perimeter scoring.
“These kids all bring a different skill set to our team chemistry,” said Elfrink. “They are very competitive and will push for varsity minutes. Our practices plan to be very competitive. Along with returning letterwinners and starters we will have deep bench. We are not going to be very big and will have to focus on defending and rebounding collectively as a team. I expect several of these kids to provide immediate impact to our team. Once the freshman get adjusted to HS Varsity basketball I expect them to provide big minutes for us.”
This season might be boom or bust for Blue Eye following back-to-back 20-win seasons, each saw the program advance a little further than the previous season.
All signs point to the Lady Bulldogs having an opportunity to end their season with a trip to Springfield and a shot at school history.
“There is definitely a buzz around the community and everyone is getting excited for the year,” said Elfrink. “The majority of our kids are also on the volleyball team who had a break out year and they had a great season. I believe the style of basketball we play excites our fan base. Along with having great character kids who do a lot in the community and in our school excites a lot of people to come watch them play.
“They gain a ton of respect not just because of their ability to play basketball but because of their character they all possess, and I am not just talking about a few of them, I mean all 18 girls on the squad. We know we will have the target on our back a lot of our games and will have to prepare for that. Our goals are to prepare for the next game, play the next game and we will see what happens. Regardless of how the season goes I have been blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of such a special group.”
Blue Eye will open the 2018-19 season with the Blue Eye Tournament starting on Nov. 26.