By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The turnaround that Bryan Dean is leading at Ash Grove is nothing short of impressive.
The Lady Pirates have seen an increase in their win total in each of Dean’s first three seasons. Entering his fourth campaign, Dean also has the luxury of every player in his program only having him as a head coach.
“Increasing wins is a credit to the players I have had in the program and the ones still in it,” said Dean. “As a coach, it is awesome to have players buy into the family culture, as well as, have full trust in what you tell them. Fourth year in a program does make coaching easier because of the valuable rapports that have been developed with players and my assistant, Coach Pavloski. I lean on these rapports to be the examples for what is expected every day.
“Expectations have always been at the foundation of this program’s success. Each year, I lay out my honest expectations for both the players and team in hopes to steer our season to the direction that we all want, SWC champs and district champs, etc. As a coach, I feel that it is your job to always be learning and to find the concepts to keep pushing the offensive and defensive schemes in the right direction.”
The expectations for Ash Grove entering this winter are sky-high as the Lady Pirates return four starters and seven total letterwinners from last year’s 19-8 that grabbed a share of the Southwest Conference championship and lost to perennial power Skyline in the district semifinals, 49-47.
Replacing Southwest Conference POY Kennadi Climer won’t be easy, but Ash Grove may be returning the league’s most talented player in 6-foot-2 junior Khloe Moad.
As a sophomore she averaged 14.4 points and seven rebounds. She was being recruited by several Power 5 programs and had received offers from Wichita State, Tulsa and Utah State, among others, before committing to Missouri State earlier this fall.
She’ll be one of the Ozarks’ top returners this winter.
“Khloe’s impact on both ends of the floor keeps growing every year,” said Dean. “Her length has been a blessing for our 3-2 defense and has created mismatches on the offensive end. Defensively, she has become one of the area’s top rim protectors. This aspect lets us become more aggressive on the ball and stretch our defense up the floor. Every year we keep adding new concepts to the defensive and offensive side of the ball.
“Offensively, her commitment to developing a mid-range and outside game has opened a lot of opportunities for the offense scheme. Her skillset and passion for the game has pushed her to not settle in her game. I always say it but she has the ability to dominate the stat line every game and make the team great.”
She’ll be joined in the frontcourt by 5-foot-10 senior Emma Eagleburger. Averaging 11 points and nine rebounds as a junior, Eagleburger and Moad form a legitimate twin tower duo.
“Emma has been the heart for the program since she came in as a freshman,” said Dean. “Her work ethic and competitive attitude is contagious throughout the team. Emma has been a constant as a double-double in every game and the team expects this consistency of Emma. Emma loves to take on challenges, so the challenge this year is to not leave points on the floor; raise free throw and field goal percentages. Also, Emma will be expected to step away from the block to expand the offensive scheme.”
Senior Briley Bagley and junior Brittany Gilliland will also return to the starting lineup.
Bagley is a 5-foot-10 wing that uses her length and athleticism to make an impact on both ends, but especially defensively. She averaged six points and five rebounds last year.
Gilliland is a 5-foot-8 guard that averaged eight points, four assists and 3.3 steals as a sophomore. She’s recovering from a knee injury so her impact will remain to be seen.
Also back in the mix is senior Olivia Steimel and junior duo Emma McClelland and Julianna Torbett.
Steimel gives Ash Grove yet another 5-foot-10 post presence. Her physicality and toughness, along with her height, will allow Dean to be even more creative in how he uses Moad and Egleburger.
McClelland and Torbett are both guards with varsity experience. McClelland will look at taking over point guard duties this winter, while Torbett is one of the team’s top perimeter defenders.
A talented quartet of sophomores in Savanna Pratt, Evelynn Carter, Cheylynn Willmon and Renely Bagley will also compete for rotational minutes.
The Lady Pirates have seen growth, now comes the task of getting over the hump. The last time the program won 20 games or a district championship was in 2014. That was also the program’s lone Final Four trip.
This roster has the components to have a historic season, but it’ll start with navigating a tough conference and district slate.
“The SWC and district will include successful programs that are coached well and expecting to win,” said Dean. “We need to control what we can control and take of ourselves by doing what we do best. The season is long and we need to be playing the best basketball at the end.”
Ash Grove will open the 2020-21 season on Nov. 23 at Crane.