By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last year is one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon around Wheatland.
The Lady Mules, following a great regular season campaign, upset state-ranked Leeton (61-56) and Polk County rival Walnut Grove (69-66), in overtime, to secure a historic state semifinal appearance for Wheatland.
This coming after upsetting also state-ranked Hermitage, who beat the Lady Mules twice during the regular season by a combined 45 points, in the district championship.
“That run last year was an experience of a lifetime that nobody in our community will ever forget,” said Wheatland coach Jeremiah Bryan. “Our community got together last year by the hundreds and I would really like to thank them for all of their support.
“The win over Leeton in double OT was a roller coaster of emotions and once the final buzzer went off we realized that we finally had a chance for the rematch that we have wanted all year since Walnut Grove beat us by five touchdowns earlier in the year. Both me and the girls truly believed that we could compete with them for an entire game as long as we played with big hearts and tons of effort. When the Walnut Grove game was over it took a few seconds to actually realize that we were going to the Final Four for the first time in school history.”
Now, following a season of being the hunter, Wheatland will be the hunted, returning three starters from last year’s 25-win team, led by all-state senior Madi Sutt.
Sutt, who averaged 16.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG and 2.1 SPG as a junior, will likely eclipse the 2,000-point mark this season with an outside shot at 2,500 career points. She could go down as the most decorated player in program history.
She’s a complete, two-way player that should have a monster senior season.
“There aren’t very many things that Madi can add to her game, but one thing that I can say she has added is the experience and confidence of going to the Final Four,” said Bryan. “She’s only continues to get better.
Juniors Sami Schultz (2.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and Kennedy Griffin (4.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG) are also back in the mix after starting as sophomores.
Bryan is also extremely excited about his incoming group, one that includes a group of juniors with a foreign flare and a strong crop of freshmen.
Amaia Betolaza (Spain), Zhanylaia Mamytova (Kyrgyzstan) and Aleksandra Staniec (Poland), all exchange students, should provide immediate help. Betolaza, a 5-foot-8 guard, could compete for a starting role.
Taylor Hunt (5’8), Heavenly Lewton (5’5), Kaleigh Gautieri (5’5) and Cassy Davis (5’1) will also find their way into the rotation. Hunt averaged 15 PPG as an eighth grader and could make an immediate scoring impact this winter.
Wheatland will again see a loaded schedule.
Last winter, the Lady Mules saw elite programs like Strafford, Glendale, Parkview and Spokane in nonconference play. Bryan will again challenge his team with an equally tough nonconference grind that includes Bradleyville, Sacred Heart, and the Skyline Tournament, as well as the area’s top event – the Pink & White Lady Classic.
“I knew that going to the Pink and White could be a very good experience for us if the girls got the positive out of it instead of the negative,” said Bryan. “We got the honors of playing Strafford the first round and the girls were up for the challenge. After that game, they realized that the competition in class one is nothing like that of the bigger classes. The tournament taught us to be stronger, play harder, and never give up. We are extremely excited to go back this year and see what challenges await us.”
But for Wheatland, it’s all necessary.
After breaking the program’s single-season win record and making school history with the win over Walnut Grove and Final Four run, the Lady Mules want more.
Something that can only come with a return trip to JQH Arena in March and not just this season, but moving forward. This group has established a new normal when it comes to basketball
“The girls had a blast and say that going to the Final Four is going to be their goal every year now,” said Bryan. “Not only that, but the middle school and elementary has had a lot more participation and interest from girls who went to watch last year. They want to experience that when they get older.”
Wheatland will open the 2018-19 season on Nov. 19 at Bronaugh.