By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Branson finished with a 15-12 record last season, falling 80-49 to Kickapoo in the district semifinal round.
While the Lady Pirates came up short in their hunt for a district title, the team has high hopes as it heads into the 2019-20 campaign.
Branson head coach Kip Bough believes his team’s attitude has set the tone for this season.
“We are very excited about this year,” Bough said. “We felt like our team performed very well last year, and the excitement was carried over into the summer, where we played a lot of games. We feel we return a good nucleus of players, but also, will be bringing along a good young group of girls.”
A pair of graduated seniors depart the program in Karis Goodwin and Ravan Tucker.
Goodwin, in particular, will be difficult to replace.
“Karis will be a big loss,” Bough said. “Not only her leadership on and off the court, but she was our second-leading scorer last year and was a 3-point threat that helped open the court up for Priscilla.”
Priscilla, in this case, refers to all-state senior Priscilla Willaims.
Wiliams, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 27.8 points 10.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season for the Lady Pirates and is the focal point of the team at both ends of the court.
Rated No. 11 on the ESPN prospect list, Williams has verbally committed to Syracuse University.
“Everything we do centers around Priscilla,” Bough said. “She is one of the top players in the nation and is why we have the ability to contend with some of the top teams in the area. She is often double- and triple-teamed every game.”
Williams is joined by a host of returning starters and lettermen including sophomore Chloe Grimm (3.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg), senior Maddie Pardeck (5.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), senior Hailey Lashley (1.2 ppg), senior Sidney Davis (2.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and senior Alli Hawkins.
Sophomore Riley Crouse is also expected to return to the starting lineup at some point following a mid-season ACL injury.
Branson will also benefit from a quintet of newcomers ready to compete for varsity playing time, including freshman Harleigh Hodges, freshman Tabby Williams, junior Kara Spinning, sophomore Kami Hawkins and freshman Jordan Wall.
Bough believes the 5-foot-9 Tabby Williams — Priscilla’s younger sister — could see considerable time at the varsity level this season helping with ball-handling duties and freeing up Priscilla on the floor.
“I know getting Riley Crouse back will help our scoring, plus the addition of Kara Spinning, Harleigh Hodges and Tabby Williams could also help on the offensive end,” Bough said. “We will just have to see who steps up in practice and in games.”
Speaking of stepping up, the Lady Pirates feature plenty of size on the roster and could field one of the area’s tallest lineups if they chose in Priscilla Williams (6-foot-3), Pardeck (6-foot-3), Hodges (6-foot-3), Davis (5-foot-11) and Tabby Williams (5-foot-9).
Branson’s schedule will feature a loaded Central Ozarks Conference slate including the likes of Carl Junction, Republic, Ozark and Nixa. In addition, the Lady Pirates will participate in the Pink & White holiday tournament.
That said, for Branson to challenge for conference and district titles this season, it will need to find help for its do-everything star and force teams away from the double- and triple-team approaches.
“We will need other players besides Priscilla to step up on the offensive end,” Bough said. “Our girls know that those who can help the team the most play, and our hope and belief is that we will be playing our best basketball come conference and district time.”
Branson opens its season Nov. 25 at Springfield Central.