By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Mountain Grove Lady Panthers battled through a difficult year in 2017-2018, but coach Vallie Hoerning is optimistic heading into this season.
“Due to early season key injuries and illness, we were on our heels most of last year,” said Hoerning, who enters her third season at Mountain Grove. “We had a very difficult schedule last year, with several Class 1 and Class 2 state-ranked teams including eventual Class 2 state champion Neelyville. Our young kids were thrown in there, and I feel that experience will pay off.”
The Lady Panthers finished 1-24 overall and 0-7 in the South Central Association, capped by a first-round exit in the Class 3 District 10 Tournament.
Mountain Grove did lose three starters from last year’s team, including Kacey Watson, an All-SCA Honorable Mention pick who led the team with 12.2 ppg and 7 rpg; Skylar Homer, point guard, who led the team in 3-point attempts/makes; and Jayden Jordan, a good rebounder and defensive post player.
The future looks bright as the Lady Panthers return four experienced sophomores and senior guard Tommi Gardner.
Gardner, a 5-foot-8 senior guard and an All-SCA Honorable Mention selection in 2017-18, averaged 4.8 points, 3 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. “She will need to handle the ball more and score,” Hoerning said. “She gets lots of deflections on defense.”
The sophomore returnees include:
• Gracie Anderson – 5-5 guard – averaged 2.3 ppg, 1 apg
• Trinity Elliott – 5-8 forward – averaged 4.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg
• Alex Hicks – 5-6 guard/forward – averaged 1.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg
• Kelsey Watson – 5-8 forward – averaged 4.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 spg
Of the two top newcomers this season, 6-1 junior Alisha Condos is one that Hoerning is excited about.
“She played extensive varsity minutes as a freshman, moved out of the district last year and has returned,” Hoerning said. “She will make an immediate impact with her ability to score, rebound and defend the basket.”
The other key newcomer is 5-1 sophomore Mckenna Berry, who Hoerning calls “a bulldog on defense.”
Mountain Grove opens the season on the road on Nov. 20 at Fair Grove.
“We will have to improve our perimeter defense, decrease turnovers, score with improved shooting ability and free-throw opportunities, and get easy baskets with defensive turnovers,” Hoerning said.