By Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Rob Guerin (SRVC Coach of the Year)
2016-17 RECORD (SRVC): 25-5 (9-0)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: QUARTERFINALS: Lost 67-24 to Skyline
GRADUATES: Christine Stellwagen (All-SRVC 2nd Team), Kayla Portillo, Jessica Prescott
RETURNING PLAYERS: Belle Golubski (Sr., G/F, SRVC MVP, All-SRVC 1st Team), Ragan Blinzer (Sr., PG, All-SRVC 1st Team), Kendyl Hayward (Jr., C, All-SRVC 1st Team), Emily Drollinger (Sr., G), Libbey Strickler (Sr., G), Lexi Eck (Jr., G), Jerika Brown (So., G), Donielle Brottlund (So., G/F)
NEWCOMERS: Leslie Jones (Fr., F/C), Madi Gripka (Fr., F/C)
Pierce City is loaded with talent a year after winning 25 games, finishing a perfect SRVC run and making its first appearance in the state quarterfinals since 1998.
The Eagles return eight players who had at least some varsity experience in 2016-17, including three All-SRVC 1st Team selections: Belle Golubski (SRVC MVP/Class 2 All-State), Ragan Blinzer, Kendyl Hayward.
All-SRVC 2nd Team selection Christine Stellwagen graduated, in addition to a pair who received significant minutes in Kayla Portillo and Jessica Prescott.
“We lost three solid players, but we have a group of underclassmen that are expected to pick up some of the responsibilities of the players we lost, and we also have a solid upperclassmen group that are excellent leaders and will push everyone to maximize their potential,” head coach Rob Guerin said.
BELLE OF THE BALLERS
Golubski finished a decorated junior year with a conference MVP, a Class 2 District 12 selection and a Class 2 All-State selection after averaging 14.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
Primarily a post player since starting as a freshman, she began effectively mixing in some guard play last season.
“She improved her guard defense and her perimeter shooting as well has her penetration ability, making her really hard to guard,” Guerin said.
Guerin will look to take advantage of that skillset and those mismatches this year with Golubski expected to play both inside and out.
“She plays hard and brings a lot energy to practice,” Guerin said. “She is expected to lead the team in scoring again this year as well as improving her other stats.”
THE BEST GETS BETTER
The Eagles are primed to improve upon one of the program’s best seasons in its history with Golubski, Blinzer (10 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 3.1 SPG) and Hayward (11.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG) leading the way. All averaged double-digit scoring and Hayward nearly averaged a double-double.
“This team has the potential to be as good, if not better, than last season’s team.,” Guerin said. “They have a bullseye on their back and every team will be looking to beat them, so the girls will need to make sure they are focused and play hard every game.”
Libbey Strickler (6.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 SPG) and Emily Drollinger (1.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.0 APG) also return. Drollinger is expected to start this season and Strickler has a shot at the same after returning from injury after Christmas break.
“This group is well-rounded and know that they have to work for everything they may achieve,” Guerin said.
Guerin on Blinzer: “Controls the tempo on both ends of the floor. She can get up and
defend well and she pushes the ball on the offensive end. She is also the floor leader and is a
good extension of myself and knows what I expect from the team.”
Guerin on Hayward: “Hayward controls the paint on both ends of the floor. She is a strong post
player that loves to rebound. I expect her to continue that role, as well as develop some range on her shooting.”
Guerin on Drollinger: “Can defend the ball well. She will be looked to increase her scoring on a more consistent basis.”
Guerin on Strickler: “She is a good defender and will add another scoring threat.”
SOME OLD, SOME NEW FACES
Freshmen Leslie Jones and Madi Gripka are the only true newcomers to the varsity roster, but junior Lexi Eck and sophomores Jerika Brown and Donielle Brottlund should also be included here after splitting JV and limited varsity time last season.
Jones and Gripka are both strong post players and Jones has a chance to start with a knack for grabbing rebounds and scoring in the paint.
Eck led Pierce City’s JV team last season and will see valuable varsity time this winter. Brown will primarily see time as a backup for Blinzer.
MILESTONES ON THE HORIZON
Golubski: She enters the season with 844 career points with an eye 1,000.
Guerin: Pierce City’s 11th win of the season will be the 200th career victory for the head coach, who enters the season with 189 career wins.
NEW MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB
After falling short of the state quarterfinals at the hands of Crane for three years (2012-2014), Pierce City finally got over that hump with its 59-56 overtime sectionals win over Crane last season. Now its Skyline that’s standing between the Eagles and a state berth. The Class 2 state champion Tigers beat the Eagles 67-24 in last year’s state quarterfinals and will likely be in position for a rematch this winter if both get that far.
ADDITIONAL QUOTES FROM ROB GUERIN
On his expectations for 2017-18: “I expect the girls to give each other their best effort every day, whether in practice or in a game. With the right attitude and effort, I believe this team could be as good as we were last year, and we should be a little deeper off the bench.”
On the importance of staying competitive every day: “The mentality will start in practice and the team will be competing for varsity minutes every day. There are a handful of players that could play in many games, but they will have to earn those minutes in practice.”