By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After a third-place finish in Class 1 in 2017-2018, the Wheatland Lady Mules came up short on a return trip with a loss in the Class 1 District 7 championship game last season.
And, in spite of the graduation of all-state guard/forward Madi Sutt, coach Jeremiah Bryan is confident his team can break through this season.
“I am very excited to see what this basketball season will bring,” Bryan said of his team, which finished 18-9 overall and 7-1 in the Polk County League. “We have the potential to compete for a district championship once again.”
Sutt had a huge impact on the Lady Mules’ program throughout her career. She finished as the program’s career scoring leader with 2,279 points, was named Class 1 All-State, all-district and district player of the year, and first-team all-conference. She is continuing her playing career at Evangel University.
“Madi leaves the program with school records in just about every category in school history,” Bryan said. “Not only that, but she was a straight-A student in the classroom, as well.”
Also lost to graduation is guard Amaia Betolaza.
“Our biggest strength this year will be the amount of experience that we will be returning,” said Bryan, who enters his sixth year leading the Lady Mules. “The areas that we need to improve on will be rebounding and playing better lock-down defense.”
The Lady Mules return a young, but experienced lineup.
• Taylor Hunt, a 5-8 sophomore, averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game on her way to earning all-district and all-conference second-team honors. “Taylor had a tremendous freshman year for us here at Wheatland,” Bryan said. “We will look for her to pick up right where she left off.”
• Kennedy Griffin, a 5-7 junior, averaged 10.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 APG and 1.7 SPG. She also made 42 3-pointers and earned second-team all-conference honors.
• Sami Schultz, a 5-5 junior, averaged 5.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.5 APG and 1.5 SPG. “Sami played through her sophomore season with a knee injury. She racked up 64 rebounds, and once again was a great leader for the team. We look for her to step up this year and help fill a little bit of Sutt’s shoes as a scorer and a leader.”
• Heavenly Lewton, a 5-6 sophomore, averaged 4.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG and 1.5 APG.
Bryan has two freshmen and three foreign exchange students who he will look to contribute the season.
“We will be adding two freshmen – Lynze Walker and Lexus Rife – who will compete for some playing time,” Bryan said. “We also have a few foreign exchange students who will hopefully be able to give us some more depth off the bench.”
Rife is a 5-5 athletic guard, and Walker is a 5-7 post. Ana Arino, a 5-8 junior, Babeta Louckova, a 5-6 sophomore and Marta Martin, a 5-6 junior, are foreign exchange students who could provide depth.
“What might surprise teams this year is our ability to move the ball and shoot from the perimeter,” Bryan said.
Wheatland opens the season at Nevco on Nov. 22 and will then host Sacred Heart on Nov. 26. And, for the third straight year, the Lady Mules will be competing in the Pink and White Tournament.
“We have been slowly trying to toughen up our schedule over the past few years, which has resulted in a few more losses, but has also toughened us up a little,” Bryan said. “The biggest challenge that we will face will be competing with the bigger schools in the Pink and White Tournament.”