By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
One day it’ll sink in for Strafford – both players and coaches – that what they’ve done over the last two years is historically rare.
Two years, two state championships.
A 63-3 record with seven of eight state playoff games being decided by double digits.
The Lady Indians have won 49 games in a row and hold the single-season state record for wins (33).
Dominant is the only word to describe what Strafford Basketball has become.
“I don’t know that I have had the opportunity to step back and take the last two years in fully,” said Strafford head coach Steve Frank. “It was so special to share that with such a special group of girls. I don’t feel like they will realize how special this has been until they have stepped away from the game years down the road and look back and reflect on how special it was.”
Coach Frank should replace the word “was” with “is” because on paper Strafford’s run isn’t quite done.
The Lady Indians return four starters, including reigning Class 3 Player of the Year Hayley Frank.
The 6-foot-1 junior led Strafford in virtually every category last year, putting up 24.4 points, 12.3 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 4.3 steals. She also put together a ridiculous 69-53-84 shooting split.
Frank committed to Mizzou earlier this fall.
“On paper her percentages are almost unheard of in every category leading our team the past two years in every single category except turnovers,” said Coach Frank. “Her ability to play every position on the floor makes her a tough matchup for opponents.
“She is so humble, never gets high on the highs or low on the lows. She understands how important every person on our team is, and never puts herself first, always pushing her teammates and leading by example. This attitude builds pride and trust in your team, leading to a bond among a group of girls that is unexplainable in words, and speaks for itself on paper.”
That bond has also created a balanced attack that led to Strafford scoring 80 or more points 14 times in 2016-17.
Lone senior Abby Oliver graduated, taking her 22 PPG and state-record 151 3-point FG to College of the Ozarks.
That doesn’t mean there will be any shortage of firepower though.
Senior Zoey Mullings, the unsung hero of Strafford’s first state championship run, averaged 9.2 points and 6.5 rebounds as a junior.
The 5-foot-8 Mullings is yet another forward that can step out on the perimeter with the ability to shoot and pass like a guard.
She averaged 14.5 points and eight rebounds in seven playoff games last year.
“Zoey played a huge role in our success last year,” said Coach Frank. “She’s a leader on and off the court and a key component to our chemistry. She will have a tremendous season for us this year.”
Kayley Frank, Hayley’s twin sister, will also shoulder more of the scoring load after putting up 9.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. She’s also the team’s best defender, possessing the ability to guard 1-5.
“Kayley prided herself on guarding the other team’s best player; she was our blue-collar player that made our team go,” said Coach Frank. “She came up with huge rebounds and hustle plays. This season she’ll step into an even bigger role for us.”
Junior Kyndall Compton started every game last season, and offers another ball-handling presence that will be looked upon to score more this year.
“Kyndall was our two guard last year, she is very quick and creates problems on defense for our opponents. Kyndall is a playmaker and will have to run the one guard for us this year. We will also look for more scoring from her this year,” Frank said.
Sophomores Mica Chadwell, Logan Jones and Taylor Treat will also figure into the equation this year after playing regular minutes a year ago.
Chadwell and Jones bring size and versatility to the lineup. Treat provides backcourt depth.
Junior Madison Chittenden will be another guard that helps fill the void left by Oliver. Chittenden was a two-year starter at Springfield Catholic and one of the area’s best facilitators over the last two seasons.
Adding her to a lineup that already includes three players that averaged at least three assists per game last year will only improve Strafford’s selflessness.
“Balance has always been our number one goal, if teams try to take something away we have many more options due to our balance,” said Coach Frank. “They love each other and don’t care who leads in any stat. It’s all about the team.”
Strafford wore a bullseye on its back throughout last year and now it’s even bigger with the winning streak, back-to-back titles and Frank’s commitment to Mizzou.
But, avoiding the pressure and expectations isn’t really their style. Strafford is again playing a gauntlet of a schedule that includes some of the area’s best Class 4-5 programs.
The Lady Indians are we aware of what’s at stake. While they have aspirations of maintaining the culture they’ve helped establish, cheating the process and looking at the results and not the work isn’t going to be an issue.
“Two years ago we flew under everyone’s radar,” said Frank. “Last year we knew the pressure was on. I always spoke to the team on how we would be everyone’s target and we would always get everyone’s best game. That transitioned into getting that put on our shooting shirts as a reminder every night.
“Our kids understand we are now the hunted and that means we work that much harder to improve weaknesses. We don’t talk about last season, it’s over… we don’t look ahead at this season. Our only focus is to get better every day and take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”
Strafford will begin its quest for a three-peat on Nov. 28 as part of the Ash Grove Lady Pirate Classic.