By Denise Tucker (OzarksSportsZone.com)
After back-to-back seven-win seasons, the Aurora Lady Houn’ Dawgs will look to a more experienced group to lead them into the 2019-2020 campaign.
The Lady Houns’ finished 7-18 overall and 1-5 in the Big 8 East in 2018-2019, which included a first-round exit in the Class 4 District 11 tournament in coach D.J. Gutscher’s second season.
Gone from last year’s squad is Ashley Vaught, a 5-2 guard who had a lot of basketball experience and a high basketball IQ.
Gutscher, who enters his third season at Aurora and his 12th season as a head coach, is excited about the upcoming season.
“We have a core group of kids who are now upperclassmen who have played varsity since they were freshmen and sophomores,” Gutscher said. “They understand what it takes to compete at a high level and their approach this offseason proves that.
“We will have a more fundamentally sound group on the floor every night because of the work this group has put in. I am confident that things we have been building toward the past two seasons will start to come together. Our foundation has been set, now it is up to us to execute.”
Leading the way for the Lady Houns’ this season include: Elizabeth Martin, Kortney Juracek, Chloe Ryan, Nallely Martinez, Brookelynn Sandoval and Brooke Schutte.
Martin, a junior, was an all-conference honorable mention selection and was named to the all-district team. She averaged 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game before suffering an ACL injury during Aurora’s district-opening game against Reeds Spring.
“She has worked extremely hard to get back this season,” Gutscher said. “The past two seasons she has had to play out of position. She has a motor that is constantly running and will lead us this season from the point guard position.”
• Juracek, a senior, averaged 1.2 PPG, 3 RPG, 1 APG and 1 SPG last season. “Kortney is the ultimate team player,” Gutscher said. “She is willing to do whatever it takes to contribute to the team. She has been very dedicated throughout her career and has improved her all-around game. I am excited to see her persistence pay off this season.”
• Ryan is a senior who averaged 4.1 PPG and 5.2 RPG. “Chloe returns as our leading rebounder from last season,” Gutscher said. “She has figured out how to compete against her opponents, even being undersized on most nights in the post position. This year, I expect her to continue where she left off last season.”
• Martinez, a junior, averaged 3.4 PPG and 2.9 RPG. “Nallely has the ability to change the outcome of a game on both ends of the floor. She has a good mid-range game and can hit from the perimeter. If she gives consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor, I believe it will translate to increased production on the offensive end.”
• Sandoval, a junior, “had a really good summer,” Gutscher said. “She has really improved and has the potential to impact a lot of games this season. Her length will create a lot of disruption and should alter a lot of shots. She has become more comfortable on the floor, which has translated to more aggressive play.”
• Schutte, a sophomore, “is extremely athletic and will have an immediate impact on the defensive end of the floor,” Gutscher said. “She has really improved fundamentally on both ends of the floor. She is a hard worker that loves to compete.”
Gutscher says his team’s biggest strength heading into this season will be the experience gained by his players having to learn to play different positions the past two years.
“The past two seasons we have had players playing out of position,” Gutscher said. “This year, we will have players in their natural spots. Our players should be more comfortable and confident in their roles. I believe that having to play out of position for the past two years will be a strength for us moving forward. It should give us flexibility and add depth to each position.”
A couple of newcomers Gutscher thinks could contribute this season include freshman Ellie Creasy and junior Mattie Sparks.
“Ellie has a high basketball IQ and has the ability to play in the post and on the perimeter,” Gutscher said. “Mattie is a physical player and will add depth to the post player position. Once the game slows down for her, she will be a threat inside that other teams have to focus on.”
Aurora will host a jamboree with Ash Grove and Wheaton on Nov. 16 before opening the season at Bolivar on Dec. 10.
“Every basketball season, teams face challenges and obstacles,” Gutscher said. “Our players are excited and have higher expectations of themselves this season. It will be important for them to remain focused on the process and not the results.”