By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A pair of program cornerstones are gone, but Thayer’s core principles remain the same.
Play tough, defend well, value the basketball and win the rebounding battle.
Thayer comes off a state championship season. The Lady Bobcats hoisted the Class 2 plaque – their first state title in program history – last March with a 52-35 win over Mid-Buchanan at JQH Arena in Springfield.
“Expectations are high again for this (returning) group,” said Thayer coach Cecil Meyer. “We still have maturing to do, but we came a long way over the summer.”
Thayer returns a large junior class and one senior.
Jurnee Rolen (4.8 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game), the senior, is a returning starter.
“We need her to be a leader for us,” Meyer said.
Shelby Coursey (6’2”) and Maddy Kerley (5’6”) are also returning starters. Both earned all-conference honors last season.
Coursey (8.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) played a pivotal role in Thayer’s defense last season.
“She allowed us to extend and guard (teams) certain ways because she was in there to protect the lane,” Meyer said.
Thayer will turn to Kerley (8.3 ppg) for increased offensive production.
“She’s ready to make that step,” Meyer said. “We’re looking for a breakout year from her.”
Four more juniors return to the varsity lineup: Marissa Webber, Avery Pierce, Katie Wade and Cailee Garrison.
Webber, a post player, plays bigger than her size (5’7”), Meyer said
Pierce and Wade could have breakout seasons offensively.
“Avery played some big minutes for us last season,” Meyer said. “She developed into a very consistent shooter. If that continues, she will play a major role for us.
“Katie’s an offensively gifted kid on a team that stresses defense. She had a good summer and we feel she’s ready to handle physical play and battle on defense.”
Meyer said Garrison brings toughness to the team and, like Webber, plays bigger than her listed size (5’3”).
Thayer, which finished 30-3 overall, graduated a pair of all-state players in Julie Stone and Angela Sorrell.
Stone, a four-year starter who led Thayer in nearly all stat categories, is playing at College of the Ozarks.
“She was our floor general and ran the show,” Meyer said. “Julie had that quality that every coach talks about but none of us know how to produce. She made everyone around her a better player.”
Sorrell was also a four-year starter who developed from an honorable mention all-conference player as a junior into an all-state player as a senior. She is continuing her career at Mineral Area College in Park Hills.
“With the right situation, I can see her game taking off at the next level,” Meyer said. “Angela was as athletic as any kid we saw last year. We will miss that and her refuse-to-lose attitude.”
Varsity newcomers include junior Haddlee Atkisson (5’3”) and sophomores Callie Johnson (5’7”) and Madison Neldon (5’6”).
“Haddlee gives us depth and quickness at the guard spot. She’s very fast,” Meyer said.
Johnson is one of the team’s better shooters and could earn more playing time with her defensive performance. Neldon, Meyer said, is “going to push some kids to get better because of her effort level.”
In addition to a competitive conference schedule, Thayer will again compete in the Pink and White Lady Classic at Drury University in Springfield over winter break. Thayer went 3-1 in that tournament last season, beating Bentonville (Ark.), Parkview, Logan-Rogersville and losing by one to Kickapoo.
If the Lady Bobcats end up in the same district again, it would future the last two Class 2 state championships (Neelyville in 2018, Thayer in 2019).
Thayer opens the regular season Dec. 9-14 at the Border War Tournament.