By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
There was something different about the Class 5 state tournament last season.
For the first time since the 2012-13 season, Nixa wasn’t in the 16-team field.
Nixa finished 19-9 overall last season. The Eagles lost 48-42 to Joplin in the Class 5 District 12 tournament finals, which snapped Nixa’s streak of four straight district titles.
This season, Nixa will feature a young lineup of capable perimeter shooters.
“This is a team that will play unselfish and will get better throughout the season,” said Eagles coach Jay Osborne. “We could be a really good perimeter shooting team.
“We will need to find some consistent scoring inside and we have a few players that are capable of fulfilling this need.”
Kaleb Wofford emerged as one of the area’s rising stars last season. As a freshman, he averaged about 10 points per game and shot 41 percent from 3-point range (67-for-167 overall).
Luke Roemen, a 6’4” senior post, will step into a more prominent role after averaging 4.5 points per game last season.
Ace Ackers, a 5’11” junior guard, is another likely starter for the Eagles. He averaged 3.4 points in 20 varsity games as a sophomore.
“We have only three players returning with any varsity experience, with only one of them (Wofford) being a full-time varsity player,” Osborne said.
The Eagles graduated six seniors after last season: Nathan Elmer, Drew Canady, Jack Sanders, Max Bilbrey, Masen Gideon and Tanner Hartman.
Newcomers in contention for playing time include 6’0” senior guard Brandon Gordon, 6’5” senior post Isaiah Engelman and 6’2” junior guard Josh Mason.
“Brandon has the ability to attack the basket and create scoring opportunities for himself and teammates,” Osborne said. “(Isaiah) was injured most of last season. He’ll give us some needed size inside.
“Josh has made vast improvement over the summer. He’s a good ball handler and shooter.”
Carson Young (5’11” senior guard), Jason Jones (6’4” sophomore forward) and Evann Long (5’9” junior guard) will also factor into the varsity rotation.
The Eagles won’t have the likes of Chase Allen or Christian Bundy around the basket this season. But the smaller lineup means Nixa will space the floor with capable perimeter shooters.
Osborne is also eager to see if the Eagles’ defense can make a bigger impact.
“What we really didn’t have last season was a defense that could create baskets,” Osborne said. “We will need to find a way to be able to get some easy transition baskets from our defensive effort.”
Osborne enters his 27th season at Nixa and 30th season overall as a head coach this winter. He has a career record of 586-218.
Nixa opens the season Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Parkview Tournament. The Eagles’ home opener is Dec. 14 against Rogers, Arkansas.
“As a coaching staff, getting our players to play for something greater than themselves will be the key,” Osborne said. “Playing for their teammates, school and community will bring out the best in them.”