By Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Kevin Cheek
2017-18 RECORD : 30-3
2017-18 POSTSEASON: STATE 3RD-PLACE GAME: Beat Northeast (Cairo) 64-35
The 2017-18 Skyline Tigers were the favorites for a second straight Class 2 state championship before Neelyville pulled the tournament’s biggest upset on its way to claiming the title for itself.
Skyline rebounded with a 29-point win over Northeast in the third-place game, signaling the end of the career of one of the best to ever come through the decorated program in Kaylee Damitz.
Considered by many coaches to be one of the best defenders in the Ozarks across all levels, Damitz was also Skyline’s leading scorer at 21.0 PPG. She is already having an impact at Pittsburg State as a freshman.
With all-conference selection Chloe Cole also graduated, the Tigers will likely lean heavily on all-state selection Autumn Garrett (12.0 PPG, 1,000+ career points) offensively, but are also prepared to enter a different era than the one they’ve experienced the past four seasons.
“Kaylee has started every game since her freshman year with maybe the exception of a Senior Night when she was a freshman,” Cheek said. “The goal isn’t to replace her, but find someone to fill her role and different players to fill in for what she brought to the team.
“We’re replacing a lot. It’s different with the girls we’ve graduated the past couple years that we’ve had together since junior high.”
But Skyline isn’t a team that rebuilds in the classic sense. They just reload. The Tigers have won 25+ games each of the past six seasons, haven’t won fewer than 23 games this decade, and haven’t lost a district championship since 2011-12.
Cheek expects a rotation of up to 10 this season, including returners Garrett, Kylie Craig, Kenzie Carver, Emma Crawford, Keelie Holmes and Allison Nothnagel. But with only two seniors and two juniors, this will be a young roster.
“We’ll be different,” Cheek said. “We’re athletically talented. I have 3-4 girls who can really shoot and we’re very guard heavy. They practice hard and want to learn, which gives us the opportunity to teach a lot.”
Cheek keyed on sophomores Crawford and Holmes as a pairing that shined defensively as freshmen and that he expects to help offensively.
Incoming freshmen include Miranda Quinnoz, Lily Whitten and Jaden Foster.
As for Cheek, he enters the season with 485 career wins at Skyline as head coach. That 500 mark is looming.
Skyline has won 30+ games each of the past two seasons compared to just five losses, with two of those five losses coming against back-to-back-to-back Class 3 state champion Strafford. With the exception of last year’s loss to Neelyville, Skyline hasn’t lost to a Class 2 or Class 1 opponent since losing to Crane in the 2015-16 state semifinals. The Tigers haven’t lost to a Class 2 or Class 1 opponent during the regular season since falling to Gainesville on January 23, 2016.
Skyline takes no break schedule-wise this season. The Tigers will against participate in the Pink & White Classic and only have one Class 1 opponent on the schedule, and that opponent isn’t an easy matchup (Walnut Grove).
“Our conference is brutal with Strafford and Fair Grove, and our schedule is ridiculous,” Cheek said. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I made it. Only one Class 1 team and everyone else is Class 3 or Class 4.”
But Cheek knows that level of competition can make a team better quickly.
“This will be a significantly different team in February than it will be in November.”
Skyline opens the 2018-19 season in the Warsaw Tournament on November 26.