By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Here are some things to watch for in the White Bracket of the Pink & White Tournament.
The No. 1 Seed: West Plains (8-0)
At this point, their dominance can’t be overstated. They’re unbeaten with every margin being at least 13 points and no opponent scoring more than 41 points. Senior Kenzie Brunson (17 points) and junior Ashton Judd (17.5 points, 10 rebounds) are an elite duo, and freshman big Allyssa Joyner is the future of the program. Personally, I think Judd is a Division One-caliber talent and Joyner’s size and athleticism could have her in the same range. But for the Lady Zizzers, this is about that elusive title. West Plains has won 12 of its last 16 games at the Pink & White, going 3-1 in each of the last four events. That includes last year’s runner-up finish where they lost to Fort Smith Northside (Ark.) in the final 55-53. This group is looking to be the first to do several things that haven’t happened in some time. Going to the Final Four and winning a state championship are down the line, first up is winning the Pink & White.
Top Contenders: No. 1 Nixa (7-2) | No. 2 Republic (2-3)
Nixa has frequently been the topic of conversation over the last month. The Lady Eagles got off to a hot start but have lost to Fayetteville (Ark.) and Kickapoo in the last couple of weeks which has slowed momentum. But, this is still a team that owns a neutral court win over Carl Junction and has an elite backcourt locally with juniors Ali Kamies and Macie Conway. Younger sister Sadie Conway has also proved worthy of mention among the top freshmen in the area. What the Pink & White will mean to Nixa is the opportunity to string together wins against high-level competition. Nixa will have plenty of shots at quality wins in 2021, but potentially seeing Waynesville or Carthage, followed by West Plains or Republic very much represents the kind of schedule they could see in districts. Winning big games is learned, Nixa will get that chance this week.
Republic is off to a slow start and nobody should be concerned; they’ll be fine. Their losses have come to three of the top teams in Class 6 (Incarnate Word, Jeff City, Kickapoo) and in multiple cases Republic was shorthanded. The Lady Tigers still have three really key factors working for them. Kris Flood has been scary good at the Pink & White ending Strafford’s winning streak last year and recently knocking off out of area powers Jonesboro and Elgin. They even won the inaugural event in 2012. Republic is still extremely good defensively and they’ll typically have the best player on the floor in Kaemyn Bekemeier. What it boils down to is they got a late start, had some injuries and had to play four games in five days. We still haven’t seen them anywhere close to at full strength. Even still, they’re good enough to make a run.
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Best First Round Game: No. 4 Blue Eye vs. Parkview
We love holiday tournaments for this reason, getting to see these David vs. Goliath matchups. Parkview has some talent. Seniors Mikaela Whalen (17.2 points, 8 rebounds) and Kamari Ouck (11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds) are both 5-foot-9, on track for 1,000 points and have played in a lot of games. Along with freshman Tara Masten (10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds), Parkview has enough to give anyone a run on a given night. The Vikings already beat a seeded team in Central, their size and athleticism could be enough to give Blue Eye problems.
Most Intriguing Potential Game: No. 2 Carthage (7-3) vs. No. 3 Waynesville (4-0)
This is intriguing because these are two programs that haven’t seen much success in the Pink and White but both have the potential to win it. This is increasingly intriguing because of the positional matchups. Waynesville senior point guard Naudia Evans – a Grand Canyon signee – will go head-to-head with sensational sophomore Kiana Yates of Carthage. Carthage 6-foot-2 senior Hailey Fullerton has been a mainstay on All-Conference and All-District teams. She’ll lock it up with 6-foot-2 nationally-ranked freshman Breona Hurd. Evans (16.5 PPG) and Hurd (17.5 PPG) have combined to outscore every Waynesville opponent so far. Fullerton (19.4 PPG) and Yates (16.1 PPG) have given some big-time opponents fits, including Kickapoo. All four players have Division One potential. Both of these teams are legitimate threats to not only win this event, but also make Final Four runs this spring. Having the opportunity to play each other for a chance to see Nixa – yet another quality game – is something both programs want.
Upset Special: No. 3 El Dorado Springs (4-1)
Their schedule tells us two things; they’re much better than anyone not named Skyline. El Do has won every game by at least 18 points. Beau Swopes has another great group headlined by juniors Reese Schaaf and Tevi Gurley and sophomore Macie Mays. The Lady Bulldogs have never been in the Pink & White so they’ll be navigating the mental hurdle of not only seeing unfamiliar opponents – and in most cases bigger schools – but they’ll also have to be prepared to play four games in four days in what is one of the most grueling events in Missouri. This will be a team you’ll want to see at some point this week.
Player(s) Who Could Ruin the Bracket: Avery & Riley Arnold, Blue Eye
If you’re wondering why Blue Eye at 4-3 received a seed, it’s because the program has put together four straight 20-win seasons, they’ve beaten Carthage, Nixa and Willard in the last three PWLC and the Arnold twins are that good. They played a pivotal role on last year’s Final Four team and while the record this season may not be impressive on paper, understand that two of those losses came to Strafford by six and Miller in overtime. Avery and Riley both play with a motor and toughness that sets the tone for just how scrappy and physical Blue Eye is defensively. There’s a chance Class 2 Blue Eye finishes the week with four games total against Ozark Conference and COC opponents, which is exactly why Ken Elfrink made the move to the holiday tournament back in 2017.