By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For the second year in a row, the Ash Grove Lady Pirates return all five starters, leading to a positive, upward trend for a program that was the Class 3 state runner-up just six years ago.
And, as Bryan Dean enters his third season at the helm, he says that continuing to work on the details is the key to keeping the program moving forward.
“My expectations for this season are still the same as the previous two seasons – keep realistic expectations, do the ‘little details’ (rebounding, play defense, get the 50/50 balls, play harder than the other team), and leave each game with no excuses,” Dean said. “I believe the ladies in the program have bought into the expectations and are ready to start the season with confidence and a taste of wanting more success.”
In 2017-2018, the Lady Pirates finished 10-15, then improved to 16-12 overall, 5-2 and a second-place finish in the Southwest Conference in 2018-2019. They entered the Class 2 District 11 tournament as the No. 3 seed, advancing to the championship game before falling to Miller 52-31.
The Lady Pirates hit their stride during the second half of the season, winning 8 of 9 games in January, including a win over Crane in the championship of the Lady Comet Classic.
“The win over Crane helped instill the confidence in the girls that we can play with the good teams and even make our mark as one,” Dean said. “I feel that the season really represented the growth of the team and program from start to finish. I couldn’t be more proud of the ladies and honored to be a part of the journey. Last season was the spark the program needed, and we are looking forward to this year’s accomplishments and challenges.”
The only loss from last year’s squad was forward post player Patsy Gorski, who “had qualities that provided competition and leadership,” according to Dean.
Ash Grove returns all five starters and 11 letterwinners from last year’s district runner-up, led by Kennedi Climer, Emma Eagleburger and Khloe Moad.
Climer is a 5-4 senior and three-year starter, who earned all-district and first-team all-conference honors, as well as Lady Comet Classic all-tournament honors, after averaging 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2 steals per game last season.
“Kennedi has a great IQ on defense, scoring on and off the ball and managing situations during a game,” Dean said. “She will have the ball in her hands at the end of the game, and we will lean on her experience and competitive drive to share the load of our team’s expectations.”
Eagleburger, a 5-9 junior two-year starter, was an all-district and second-team all-conference pick, in addition to being named to the Lady Comet Classic all-tournament team. She averaged 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists per game last season.
“Emma is a post player who loves the game and will work hard every possession on the block to get a double-double every night,” Dean said. “Her loyalty to the team can set the tone for a great season.”
Moad is a 6-0 sophomore who earned all-district honors last season, while posting 11 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals per game.
“Khloe plays a stretch-4 for our team,” Dean said. “She has a passion to become a consistent scorer from anywhere on the floor and became a defensive presence on and off the ball in the second half of the season.”
Also returning for the Lady Pirates are Riley Hammons, Briley Bagley, MaKenna Johnson, Taylor Spickard, Emma McClelland and Julianna Torbett.
• Hammons is a 5-6 senior and a two-year starter who averaged 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal per game last season. “Riley can shoot the deep ball and stretch defenses, and last year, developed the mentality as a great rebounding guard for the team.”
• Bagley, a 5-8 junior and two-year starter, averaged 7 PPG, 6 RPG, 3 APG and 3 SPG. “Briley is an athlete with a competitive attitude that stretches the court in transition. She really established herself as a rebounding presence, as well as having instincts of getting ball deflections and steals.”
• Johnson, is a 5-5 senior who was sidelined by injury most of the season. “MaKenna is a smart player who will expand her confidence on both sides of the court.”
• Spickard, a 5-5 senior and two-year varsity letterwinner, averaged 2 PPG, 2 RPG, 1 APG, 1 SPG. “Taylor has owned the role as sixth-man. Her athleticism and competitive nature allow her to guard the ball and post.”
• McClelland is a 5-6 sophomore and letterwinner, who averaged 3 PPG, 2 RPG, 1 APG and 1 SPG. “Emma used her basketball IQ to play a variety of roles during many games last year.”
• Torbett is a 5-5 sophomore and letterwinner. “Julianna is an athlete and is learning to use this athleticism on the court as a role player.”
New to the Lady Pirates’ lineup this season is 5-7 sophomore guard Brittany Gilliland, a transfer from Republic.
“She is a player that brings a lot of basketball skill-sets to the team, the ability to guard in the open court, ballhandling, and distributing the ball to teammates.”
“Our program has a great opportunity with basically returning the entire team,” Dean said. “These players all have the desire to prove something within the Southwest Conference and throughout the season. The program has upperclassmen with quality varsity minutes and high expectations, which drives us to get back to the Lady Pirates Basketball tradition.”
Ash Grove will participate in the jamboree at Aurora with Pierce City before opening the season at home against Crane on Nov. 25.
Dean said the team has adopted the motto, “Respect the Tradition. Leave a Legacy,” which feeds off last year’s accomplishments.
“This says a lot about where the program is right now,” Dean said. “We have had to build the program with underclassmen, since I took over the program two years ago. Now, we can lean on seniors and juniors who are seasoned and ready to handle the challenges ahead.
“I am looking forward to an exciting year, but we still have to remember how we got to this point – by taking care of what we can control and playing for each other.”