By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
As Clayton Bagby took over took over an East Newton girls basketball program that had won just three games the year before, he knew the program was in for a struggle last season.
The Patriots did show improvement in year one, going 6-19, and could be poised for a big jump this winter.
“I knew we were going to be inexperienced,” Bagby said of last season. “We started a couple freshmen a big part of the year but overall I was pleased with the results. We went from three wins and not being real competitive outside of those to getting six wins last year and there were only a couple games we weren’t really competitive in so I felt we took strides forward.”
With four returning starters this year, Bagby said things are looking up.
East Newton returns senior Madison McDermott who earned honorable mention All-Big 8 honors last season. She averaged 6.1 points per game and 5.9 rebounds. A six-footer, she’ll be starting for the third-straight year.
“She started out kind of slow last year,” Bagby said. “Part of that had to do with the schedule. With her being center sometimes she has to guard the other team’s centers and we played some really good ones at the beginning of the year like Katie Scott from Carl Junction. She struggled against a few of them but by the time we got into conference she averaged about 10 points and it was around 12 rebounds a game in conference so she picked it up there in the end. She had a pretty good summer so we’ll look to surround her and build off that.”
Kaitlyn Hailey is another returning starter in her senior year. She led the team in scoring last year with 7.3 points per game and added close to four rebounds. She plays primarily at the shooting guard spot and also took around 20 charges last season.
“She’s probably got the highest basketball IQ on the team,” Bagby said.
“We’ll be looking for her to hopefully increase her shooting percentage,” he said. “As a team we’re going to be overall a better shooting team so hopefully she’s getting to take better shots and not have to force some.”
Katie Kester returns to the starting lineup as a 5-foot-8 junior. She scored 5.4 points and grabbed five rebounds a game as a sophomore.
“She’s probably one of the strongest, best athletes on the team,” Bagby said. “She’s one of those who can basically play about any position on the court. If our point guard’s out of the game she might be the backup point guard or she could be running the post of Madison’s out of the game. She’s a good athlete and she’s one of those who can work on the defense and rebounds and she’ll be able to increase her scoring output too. She’s very good going to the basket.”
The fourth returning starter is sophomore Makenna Brasier, who scored 3.1 points and had 2.4 rebounds last year. She started every game as a freshman at point guard.
“When we got into conference and she started feeling more comfortable she was very good towards the end of the year,” Bagby said. “Got more comfortable picking up on the leadership and also going towards the basket.”
While those four starters are the only returning letter winners, several other varsity newcomers should be vying for playing time. The Patriots will have as many as 18 players on the roster and just six of those will be juniors or seniors. The team expects large sophomore and freshmen classes.
Seniors Emily Hance and Jenah Graffis – both 5-foot-10 – should see varsity time. Hance, a center, has been on the junior varsity team the last three years but had a good summer of workouts and looks like a good rebounder and scorer. She could earn the fifth starting spot, although a handful of others will be competing for it as well.
“With her and Madison working together hopefully we’ll be able to take advantage of the height,” Bagby said.
Others who should see varsity time include junior Ellie Hicks, sophomores Kaitlyn Cook and Alyssa Coffey and freshmen Josie Guinn and Shaw Coburn.
As far as expectations go, Bagby wants to see East Newton take a step towards the .500 mark. In order to do that the Patriots will have to improve on last year’s shooting percentage of 30 percent, and cut down on the 21 turnovers a game.
“One has to go up and the other has to go down,” Bagby said. “Those were two big stats.”
“Last year we lost two or three games right there in the last couple minutes,” he said. “We weren’t a very good shooting team last year so it’s one of those things where I don’t think we were far off from being a 10-win team last year if we shoot a little better and do better holding ends at the end or finishing off games. Times like Sarcoxie and Seneca, they were almost 20-win teams and those were games we were tied or a point or two down at halftime and we just weren’t able to put a complete game together. If we can put a complete game together, have players continue to step up and improve, I would think .500 or better is definitely doable.”