Mt. Vernon, Mo. (For OzarksSportsZone.com) -- Last March, the Mt. Vernon Lady Mountaineers regained their Class 3 state title with a thrilling 52-48 victory over 2011 champion Stockton. But if the Mountaineers want to win their third crown in four years, they will have to do so with a new coach and only one returning starter.
During summer break, coach Doug Hepler surprised many Ozarks sports fans when he resigned to be closer to his family on the East Coast. Taking over is a familiar face to many, Jamie LaSalle.
The Miller native—who has coached previously at Greenfield, Sarcoxie, and Fair Grove—makes his debut as a Big Eight Conference mentor. LaSalle inherits a squad that finished 26-7 in 2011-12.
“I was going to be the assistant before I knew I was getting the head job,” LaSalle said,“And I was looking forward to that and I still am. I myself was shocked (about Hepler’s departure). I didn’t think that was gonna happen. Matter of fact, I helped him a little bit in the summer and thought things were going well. I think he just wanted to be around his family a little more.”
Leading the way on the court is 5-foot-11 senior post Tamiaya Henderson, who earned second-team all-state honors a year ago by averaging 13 points, 8 points and 3.5 steals per game. LaSalle calls Henderson “a great defensive player and rebounder.”
The only other senior for Mt. Vernon this year is someone coach LaSalle knows especially well, because she’s his own daughter: 5-6 guard Audrey LaSalle. Audrey averaged 3.5 points per game off the bench, but that number doesn’t tell the full tale about her talent. Jamie modestly calls Audrey “a good shooter and a good leader.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Farmer (5-9) could have quite a bit of pressure fall on her as she moves into a starting role. Farmer tallied 9 points a game as a freshman forward but will switch to point guard this year.
Asked about nerves going into the season, Coach LaSalle said, “I’m not really nervous about that, and I don’t think the girls are either, but we have high expectations… So far it’s been really good, I think. The girls are enjoying practice, working hard, and the thing I think is gonna be big for us is we have some freshmen coming in that are probably going to be asked to play pretty early and how they develop is gonna be a big part of our season.”
Henderson added, “I think the chemistry’s really good because we’re all like really close and we just trust each other on the court. We know where everyone’s gonna be so it’ll be a good year.”
The Lady Mountaineers’ schedule includes a state championship rematch with Stockton on January 3 at home, but the Lady Tigers could face off against the Green & White two other times as well: at the Pink & White Tournament and at the Show-Me Showdown.
Mt. Vernon also is entered in the Aurora and Bolivar tournaments. Carl Junction and Aurora are expected to be the biggest obstacles to the Mountaineers in the Big Eight Conference race.
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