Two seasons ago, the Nixa Lady Eagles won just five games. On Saturday night, the Lady Eagles will play defending state champion Rock Bridge (22-5) in the state quarterfinals, with the winner advancing to the Class 5 Show Me Showdown.
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“It’s always good to get a big lead early, because then you can relax a little bit,” said Nixa head coach Jim Middleton. “Not relax to where you let people back in, but where you feel like ‘all right, we’re in a good mode.’ You just kind of fall in that confidence level stage, and you can kind of breathe a little fresh air and just say, ‘all right, let’s go play ball,’ and I think we did.
"We forced a lot of turnovers in the first-half,” added Middleton. “I don’t know how many turnovers were created, but it was a bunch, and I thought that just really helped us. We were switching defenses and I think that caused some confusion.”
The Nixa defense was swarming all game long, but especially early on when the score was still close.
“We knew that Nixa was going to be a handful,” said Parkview head coach Keri Nichols. “They’re a very talented team. They have a lot of offensive weapons. We came out and struggled a little bit offensively and they got hot. We just got beat by a better team tonight.”
The Lady Vikings were hanging around midway through the first quarter, but were not able to convert on the offensive end.
“I just think the key there at the beginning was we got a couple of stops and we weren’t able to score,” said Nichols. “We came down and had turnovers and that kind of killed our offensive momentum. We just really couldn’t consistently recover from that. We had a couple good spurts, but we weren’t very consistent.”
Nixa was led by junior Angela Allen, who scored 19 points, most of which came in the paint. Junior standout Aubrey Buckley had 17 points to lead Parkview, as at least one college scout was in attendance to see Buckley play.
The Lady Eagles have come a long way from a team that struggled to win to a District and now Sectional champion.
“At the beginning of the year, did you think we’d be here?” asked Middleton. “That’s part of sports, that’s the fun of it. You never really know until the dust settles, and here we are, and I’m just proud of these kids.”
“At the beginning of the season, no one thought that we’d get to where we are,” said senior Jeana Raper, who was a sophomore on that five-win team. “I think we’re really starting to turn some heads. It feels great. We’re one game away from the Final Four. I know I’ve never been this far, so it’s really an honor.”
Awaiting the Lady Eagles on Saturday is the defending Class 5 state champions from Rock Bridge. The Lady Bruins enter the contest with a 22-5 record, but have lost only one game to an in-state opponent—unbeaten Class 4 powerhouse Incarnate Word.
“We played them in December and we stayed with them the whole first-half,” said Raper of the Lady Eagles’ 60-38 loss to Rock Bridge on Jan. 12. “I think we’re a different team now, so I think we’ll match-up better with them. We just have to outplay them.”
Coach Middleton believes his ball club turned a corner in the last match-up with Rock Bridge.
“From about Jan. 12 on, I started seeing some things, I thought, where this team was turning things into where we wanted it, and they’ve just continued it,” he said. “It was a game that day that we played (against Rock Bridge), and I started seeing some things I thought were really, really good, and they took it from there and here we are.”
Yes, here the Lady Eagles are…two seasons removed from a five-win season.
“Let’s think about this,” said Middleton. “Two years ago, we won five total games. But I saw this team at the beginning when they were a bunch of youth just grow and grow and at the end of the year, nobody really wanted to play us. And then we turn this last year and went from five wins to 21 wins. Now we’ve got a few more wins obviously than that. This team has come a long ways. They’ve earned a lot of respect, not only from me, but anybody they’re playing right now.”
It will take one more win for Nixa to return to the Final Four for the first time since winning a state championship in 2009. The Lady Eagles, who will enter their state quarterfinal match-up with Rock Bridge as a decided underdog, have nothing to lose.