By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Despite finishing with a 6-22 record last season, the Joplin girls basketball program has reason to be optimistic heading into 2017-18.
For one, the Lady Eagles notched four more victories than the previous year’s squad, and the team advanced beyond its first district game with a 44-31 victory over Carthage before falling to Republic in the semifinal.
Head coach Jeff Williams feels finishing on a positive note can only help the team’s continued improvement.
“Last year we were 6 and 22, but we had six more games that we were close to winning,” Williams said. “We hope to continue to build our program this year through hard work and dedication.”
The Lady Eagles lose a pair of seniors to graduation in Kinsley Stewart and Shelby Beaver.
Retooling the roster begins with a quartet of returning seniors in 5-foot-6 point guard Jessica Zengel, 5-foot-4 guard Diana Wagler, 5-foot-7 guard/forward Hannah Cox and 5-foot-7 forward Mikayla Kuenhel. Zengel has started all three years for the Lady Eagles, and Wagler is a two-year starter. Wagler is the team’s best defensive player, according to Williams.
Joplin’s upper-class experience is also boosted by five returning juniors, including 5-foot-9 Aydan Perrin, 5-foot-6 Dayleigh Smith, 5-foot-10 Grace Ipsen, 5-foot-10 Malia Mack and 5-foot-8 Matea Fowler. Last season, Smith led the junior varsity squad in scoring, and Mack was its leading rebounder.
Williams believes his team’s improved guard play will its biggest strength heading into the season. The overall positive attitude and team chemistry will play a factor, as well.
“We should be able to score better as the season moves along,” Williams said. “Our inside play will be able to run the court and make scoring easier, as well. We have really good kids with good hearts. They’re fun to be around and coach.”
This season also marks Joplin’s final year as a member of the Ozark Conference. Next year, the school will join the Central Ozark Conference, a move that will pay immediate dividends. Not only will long travel times to outlying schools be cut down, Joplin will have a chance to play its surrounding schools and foster better, localized rivalries with the new conference.
Williams hopes to continue improving on the team’s win totals with a difficult schedule.
“This will be a challenging year for our girls,” Williams said. “I love our enthusiasm and chemistry, and we hope to surprise some people on our schedule.”
The Lady Eagles open jamboree play with Logan Rogersville at Carthage Nov. 14. Joplin tips off regular season play Nov. 27 in the Carthage Tournament.