By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ava found success with an offensive arsenal and doubled their wins from each of the past two years; after back-to-back seven-win seasons, the Lady Bears finished 14-11 in 2018-19. Fair Grove eliminated Ava in the first round of district play.
The Lady Bears will carry on without graduated high-scorers Ashton Bewley and Lauren Mendel, post Araina Evans, and lock-down defender Emily Stillings. In addition, they will miss Julia Henry, a 6’0” sophomore, who tore her ACL during softball season.
Nathan Houk leads his team for the fourth year and seeks to advance within a competitive district and conference. The SCA conference games will be the biggest on the Lady Bears’ schedule, and winning away games will be a focus late in the season; eleven of the final twelve games are on the road.
“With our youth, being consistent is key to being successful, but also peaking at the right time,” said Coach Houk. “We haven’t advanced past the first round of districts and haven’t had a winning record in the conference in three seasons, but I believe with the talent we have returning and joining the program, achieving both is obtainable.”
Senior three-year starter Claire Fossett returns to the floor with her versatility, athleticism, and quickness. She’s a skilled defender who can work the perimeter and guard bigger players. Fossett is a hard worker who provides leadership and added 7.8 ppg and 4.6 rpg last season.
Emaly Keyes, senior, is a consistent three-point shooter. She hit big shots behind the arc last season and will now see more playing time and opportunities to score.
Eden Little returns to the role she’s held for two seasons as starting point guard.
The hard-working senior is the backbone of the defense per her coach and will cover opponents’ best guard or forward. Little can break to the basket and is hard to stop in the transition. “She leads by example and always sets a good example for her teammates,” said Coach Houk. Little added 4.8 points, 3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 2.7 steals per game in 2018.
Sophomore Hannah Evans started as a freshman and put up 7.3 points, 8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. She is versatile, able to defend and also pull down offensive boards. She shares the ball well but will be relied on more heavily for offensive production.
Lauren Hall led the JV in scoring last season and came off the bench to fill the guard spot. The sophomore is athletic with solid fundamentals. She can get to the basket and defends well.
Sophomore Baylan Alexander plays inside and gives depth to the post position. She can rebound and has a nice touch around the basket.
New faces include Devin Rowe, junior, at the guard position. Her work ethic, hustle, and ability to defend could lead to varsity minutes. Classmate Laynie Isaacs can score from behind the arc and in the perimeter and could also challenge for varsity time.
Sophomore Sam Keyes, sister to Emaly, improved her game over the summer. She’s a tough player with a strong work ethic who can hustle, defend, and shoot. Fellow sophomore Hallie Smith is a consistent shooter from behind the arc, and has the length (5’8”) and quick hands to lend to the defense.
Olivia Gastineau, freshman, can play point guard or shooting guard and can also contribute from downtown. She sees the floor well and has solid ball-handling skills, and will provide depth at the guard position. Sister Lexie Gastineau is a quick guard and strong defender. “The Gastineau twins are both good players and will raise the level of intensity,” said Coach Houk.
Freshman Celia Fossett, sister to Claire, is a speedy defender and hard to stop in transition.
Keely Akers (5’8”) and Sarah Mendel (5’11”), freshmen, play the post and can score well inside. Their work ethic and hustle will provide varsity depth.
The Lady Bears are young but skilled and are expected to improve with game experience as the season progresses. “We are going to be a tough, defensive-minded, physical basketball team that can create scoring opportunities with our hustle,” said Coach Houk. “Our quickness and athleticism will allow us to compete at a high level. The underclassmen have played a lot of basketball together and will be a nice compliment to our older kids.”
The Lady Bears host Hollister Nov. 25.