By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Entering Eli Ernst’s third season at MV-BT/Liberty, things will have a little bit of a different feel.
Life without Piper Francis and following up one of the best seasons in program history, the Lady Eagles will look to build on their 45 wins in the last two seasons. They also have no shortage of motivation.
“Last season, the way we ended our year wasn’t what we had dreamed about, but very happy about our season overall,” said Ernst. “We saw our program take a huge step forward. This year and even this summer, we haven’t spent much time talking about or reflecting on our past. We are mostly focused on what we can do as a team this time around. To compare ourselves to past successes and failures isn’t what we do. We simply moved on from it and just kept working hard towards this season.”
Liberty returns just two starters and four total letterwinners from last season, but the cupboard is hardly bare.
Senior duo Kinley Richards and Kaitlyn King will be one of the most productive combinations in the SCA.
Richards averaged 10.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and three assists. She also shot a ridiculous 49 percent from 3 with 63 makes. King is the team’s returning leader in points (10.7 points) and rebounds (8.7 rebounds), as well as 1.4 blocks. She recorded eight double-doubles, including a 20-20 game.
“Kinley Richards and Kaitlyn King are now seniors and have been tested in big games and we will lean on that all year long,” said Ernst. “They are our leaders on and off the floor and are the student-athletes that we want all of our eagles to become. They simply always know what to do and when to do it. We expect these two to simply be the best versions of Kinley and Kaitlyn they can be. They both are a true model to improvement coming through hard work and we don’t expect that mindset to stop short of knocking down lots of goals this season.”
Junior Abby Woolsey and sophomore Lexi Shumpert will also figure into the rotation after finding varsity minutes as freshmen. Woosley averaged 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds.
Junior Kiah Reese gives Liberty another post presence at 5-foot-10 and classmate Jenna Burks is an undersized post. Senior transfer Piper Hiber will also provide some frontcourt help.
Senior Belle Smith, as well as junior Jocelyn Clark and sophomore Kenna Woolsey will provide backcourt depth.
How quickly this roster adjusts to new roles and gets acclimated to varsity basketball will be key in determining success this season.
In Ernst’s third season, everyone is now familiar and comfortable with his expectations. Those won’t change and the Lady Eagles will still look to challenge for conference and district championships.
“We have seen tremendous jumps from year one to year two and anticipate the same growth going into year three,” said Ernst. “Our players have a clear definition of their roles and know what is expected of them on a nightly basis. We know communication is key and feel very comfortable with our development from those regards. We like our balance of young talented athletes with our veteran leadership. Rotations/Substitutions this year appear to be filling in as well. We value our players off the bench and feel this year Belle Smith, Jocelyn Clark and others are ready to embrace their opportunities.
“Competing for championships and districts aren’t something that just happens because we have in the past. We recognize that we have a schedule that is going to push and challenge us throughout our season. We as coaches believe having competitive practices make better basketball players and our group of young ladies know they are working hard to be in the mix for another run this season at both crowns.”
Liberty will open the 2019-20 season at home against Dora on Nov. 26.