By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Few teams felt the impact of coronavirus like Carl Junction.
The Lady Bulldogs were a perfect 28-0 entering the Class 4 Final Four. Their four playoff wins came by an average of 28 points. However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the tournament at the semifinal stage.
“Last season’s ending was extremely difficult,” said Carl Junction head coach Brad Shorter. “We felt like we were the best team in the state.
“It was all bittersweet. We were able to beat some very good basketball teams last year. For it to end like it did with all the work our kids had put in – especially the seniors for four years – it was very tough to swallow.”
Carl Junction loses four starters and six letterwinners that helped the program to a collective 99-18 record with four district championships and three Final Four appearances.
That includes a 30-2 record in true home games.
Now the Lady Bulldogs are in a full rebuild with just a handful of letterwinner returning.
However, it won’t be a typical rebuild as Shorter has proven all CJ does is reload in his seven years and 147-27 record.
It’ll all start with the returning duo of sophomore Destiny Buerge and junior Jessa Hylton.
A 5-foot-6 combo guard, Buerge averaged 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 steals. Hylton, a 5-foot-8 guard added 6.5 points and 2.1 steals.
“Destiny played very well as a freshman,” said Shorter. “I was extremely proud of her growth and maturation as the season developed. While she ran the point and distributed the ball to a number of kids, she also showed she could score and shoot the ball from outside. Obviously her role will change this year. I know she is up for the challenge.
“Jessa is extremely athletic and provides a constant spark on offense and defense. She has a motor that never stops. She is able to do multiple things on the floor with her athleticism alone.”
Senior Hannah Lee is a 6-foot post and the lone senior on the roster. She will bring a physical presence in the post. Junior Ellie Lawson and sophomore Hali Shorter will slide into guard roles.
All three players were letterwinners last year and will now transition into major roles.
“We hope to have much production from Hannah this season inside the lane, rebounding and scoring,” said Shorter. “She will take on much of the load inside for us this year.
“Hali has the potential to become a knock down shooter for us this season. She has been working hard on improving her craft. She is a team-oriented player that guards and rebounds well which will get her even more minutes. Ellie is a great team player that will play multiple positions and do a great job at all of them. Ellie has a great work ethic and I am excited to see what she does this year.”
Junior Ady Walker and sophomore Allie Wrestler, as well as freshmen Ana Burch and Kyle Scott, will also compete for varsity minutes.
Scott, a 6-foot-1 forward, is the youngest sister of former CJ stars Megan and Katie Scott.
The Lady Bulldogs could also see a faster tempo, one that was on display earlier in Shorter’s career.
Carl Junction is used to losing talented senior classes and great players, with the graduation of Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and Division One signee Katie Scott being no different.
Regardless of who leaves at CJ, the expectations never change.
“Our newcomers will have to adjust speed of the game and the adjustments we make throughout the season, daily, and per possession,” said Shorter. “With the loss of six great players, this year will be somewhat of a rebuilding time for our program. We will be very young and inexperienced at some key positions. Like every year, our goal will be to progress every day in practice and games. We will strive to progress every day and give ourselves a chance to be successful towards the end of the year.”
Carl Junction will open the 2020-21 season on Nov. 30 at the Carl Junction Classic, an event the Lady Bulldogs have won four of the last five years and 18 straight home games.