By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Camdenton Basketball will have a new look in Staci Caffey’s eighth season at the helm.
The Lady Lakers will try to replace three starters from last year’s Elite Eight run, including Ozark Conference Player of the Year Coley Rezabek.
While filling voids like that is never easy, it is something Caffey and Camdenton welcome with the sustained success it brings with the Class 5 quarterfinal appearance being the latest example.
“Just the thought of last season gives me goose bumps and gets me ready to go,” said Caffey. “The effort the ladies played with every game last season was just outstanding, I liked how they locked in on a goal and made it happen.
“Those seniors will definitely be missed both on and off the court, but I’m super excited about the expectation they left to be desired and the determination this group has to continue the tradition.”
The leadership roles this season will fall land in the capable hands of senior Natalie Basham and junior Shelby Kurtz.
Basham, also a track and volleyball standout, averaged 12 PPG, 5 APG and 5 SPG, earning All-Ozark Conference honors.
Kurtz, also All-OC, chipped in 8 PPG and 3 APG.
Together they’ll form one of the top backcourts in the Ozarks, with the unique ability to create offense for themselves and others.
“Natalie is one of the most athletic players in Southwest Missouri and has played a key role to our program since her freshman year,” said Caffey. “Natalie’s leadership and athletic ability combined makes her a top notch athlete that will help her excel to play on to the next level. She is a strong defender and led our team in steals as well as assist, she will be a determination factor for us this year.
“Shelby is an all in type of player; she is constantly working to improve her game and that hard work shows each time she steps on the court. Kurtz is a leader by example I love her work ethic and energy she brings to the team. Shelby is one of those players coaches love to have. She works hard, competes to her fullest, and as a player is determined to make things happen.”
While Camdenton doesn’t return starting experience outside of that duo, there are a handful of players that saw varsity action and understand what that big stage is like.
Seniors Jessica Watson and Darby Roam, as well as and junior Megan Vest will see heavy minutes and take on larger roles this season.
“Roam will be challenged this year to step up as a leader and continue to be a threat on the court,” said Caffey. “Watson and Vest bring a lot of energy and intensity to the court I am anxious to see how they step up and what new roles they will fulfill.”
Caffey is also excited about continuing the next crop of talent. This year, that group, led by sophomore Olivia Whittle, will compete for minutes and add depth for the Lady Lakers.
“With graduating three valuable seniors we will need to reload our bench,” said Caffey. “Olivia will get the opportunity to make an impact on the varsity court. She works so hard and matches the intensity that is needed for our defense to be successful.
“Our freshman group also put in quality court time this summer and I am excited to see where their hard work and dedication lands them in the lineup in the program.”
For Camdenton, this season is about taking the next step as a program.
With seven straight winning seasons and district championships in two of the last four years, Caffey has built something unique at the lake. The program now regularly expects to compete with the state’s elite for conference and district championships.
Their schedule now reflects those elevated expectations with a loaded conference schedule and a nonconference slate that includes the Rogers (Ark.) Tournament, Osage and Bolivar.
A gauntlet that Caffey is hopeful will prepare her team for another run in the state tournament.
“Our team dynamic will change but the style of play won’t,” said Caffey. “These young ladies have the drive and dedication it takes to be successful on the court. We will definitely be playing musical chairs to what role each player will be playing but one thing is for sure this team is ready to compete.”
Camdenton will open the 2018-19 season on Nov. 19 at Houston. The Lady Lakers will play their home opener on Nov. 27 against Helias Catholic.