By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2018-19 season tested Waynesville’s ability to reload after losing a stellar class, one that had put together 59 wins in three years. The Tigers finished 10-16 and placed four players on the Ozark Conference postseason honor list.
After waving goodbye to six seniors, including All-OC Honorable Mentions Afatia Poinsette, Victoria Perry, and Aubree Derr, head coach Brittany Matlock may have the most questions surrounding the roster in her 13 seasons at Waynesville.
“Each year, it seems like we’ve graduated 1-3 players that have gone on to play college basketball,” she said. “It’s been reloading and more rebuilding, but this is the first time in a while that we’re not anticipating that big junior and senior class.”
In fact, Matlock expects there will be no seniors on her squad this winter. The bulk of her forces will be made up of juniors and sophomores. Standout junior guard Naudia Evans, another All-Conference and All-District honoree, represents the loner returning starter after leading Waynesville with 15 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game last winter.
Her athleticism, versatility, and defensive prowess have blossomed tremendously since she entered high school, enough to make her the biggest weapon on her team in only her fourth year of playing competitive basketball. Now, she can also call herself the elder statesman of the group.
“She made a little bit of a name for herself as a freshman. Last year, we knew that’s who people were going to key on,” said Matlock. “Going into this season, she knows that’s coming again. We’ve worked a lot on both her physical and mental game; what it takes to be a leader and get people to play for you. She has a great head on her shoulders and plays her part.”
Behind Evans, Matlock will hand out a wealth of responsibilities to fellow juniors Toni Durrant and Vanessa Blake as well as sophomore Kylee Mitchell. They all saw the bulk of their minutes on junior varsity last winter, but will be asked to grow quickly as varsity players as the season progresses.
“Those three have been putting in time during the offseason and will need to take on a lot more responsibility. They’ve been in our program, just not at the level they’re about to be at. It’s about getting those kids varsity experience and comfortable with new positions. Young players may think there isn’t that big of a difference, but there is. Hopefully, girls come in with positive attitudes, accept their new roles, and we can build as the season goes.”
While filling out the rest of the roster is a work in progress, Matlock will not change her tune about the level she expects the Lady Tigers to reach. Fundamentals and situational basketball will be the focus early on as underclassmen grow accustomed to playing up a level.
“We’re a hard-working, defensive-minded team and we have high expectations. Seeing that growth from game-to-game, it may not come early, but if we stick to it, it’ll show in the end.”
Waynesville begins the season at the Carthage Invitational Tournament starting on Dec. 5.