By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Going into his first season as head coach, Monett’s Zack Kleine has the mindset that the Cubs should compete for a conference and district championship.
“Most of my girls are on the same page with that,” Kleine said. “We know there’s a lot of work to be done before we get to that point but I’ve got a good group of kids willing to put in the work. Come January and February hopefully we’re competing at a high level.”
Kleine takes over a Monett team that went 12-14 last year and lost to Webb City in the district semifinals under Alyssa Kennedy. After her departure, Kleine, who has been an assistant coach on the boys team for four years, thought the girls job was a good fit.
“We’ve got a good group of kids so I made the switch over,” he said.
While the Cubs must replace graduated seniors Alyssa Williams (second team All-Big 8, all-district) and Katie Schmidt (honorable mention all-conference), they return a key player in senior Kaesha George.
She was a first team all-conference and all-district player and broke the school’s all-time three-point record in a season as a sophomore.
“She’s just a special kid,” Kleine said. “Just the hardest worker in the school. A three-sport athlete and she puts the time in, she wants to win. She does all the little things a coach wants without having to ask. I feel really lucky to have inherited a kid like that, especially year one taking over.”
George is a guard and will be handling the ball a lot for the Cubs but could also play in some different spots.
“She can do it all,” Kleine said. “She can go off the dribble. She’s savvy, just a smart player. Not many weaknesses in her game.”
Monett has three other seniors with a lot of varsity experience: Kelsey Dalton, Abby Patton and Ashley Kurima.
“Kelsey is a forward type and she’s going to be an energy kid for us,” Kleine said. “She does a lot of little things, is a great defender and rebounder. She’s an opportunistic scorer, really good at picking her spots. Patton is more of a post player. Over the summer she developed a good little midrange game. I think she’s going to have a really big year this year, not necessarily just playing on the block all the time but stepping out and making the other team guard everybody on the floor. Really excited to see what she can do for us. Kurima is kind of a glue kid for us. A lot of times she’s on the other team’s best player defensively. Just tough, hard-nosed, a competitor.”
Other key returners are juniors Taylor Southard and Kim Parris. Southard came off the bench most of last year and will be expected to knock down some shots and play good defense at the guard position. Parris is another post/forward player who surprised Kleine over the summer and took some big steps. She was a junior varsity player last year but will definitely be in the varsity rotation and could be in line to start.
Kleine said the team has maybe three others who could earn a spot in the lineup depending on how things go at practice.
He said the main thing he’ll be looking for early this year is commitment on the defensive end of the floor.
“I’m a more defensive-minded guy,” he said. “I want them being bought in on the defensive end and understanding that’s how we’re going to win games. There aren’t going to be many nights where we outscore somebody with our offensive skill set. Defensively I think we can cause some problems if everybody’s on the same page.”
Monett opens the season at Spokane on Nov. 25. After playing in the 39th Annual Fair Grove Invitational in early December, the Cubs play their home opener Dec. 9 against Springfield Central.