By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Ash Grove Lady Pirates will look to capitalize on the experience and success they gained last season.
The Lady Pirates finished 2020-21 with an 18-11 overall record, 5-1 in the Southwest Conference and captured the Class 3 District 11 championship, before falling to conference foe Miller in the sectional round.
“We strengthened the schedule to prepare for the postseason,” said coach Bryan Dean, who enters his eighth season at the helm. “The varsity squad consisted of juniors and seniors with a lot of varsity minutes, and we had two players reach 1,000 career points. We faced some injuries last year but got healthy at the end of year once we started conference play.”
The Lady Pirates will have some key spots to fill with the graduation of Emma Eagleburger, Briley Bagley and Olivia Steimel.
• Emma Eagleburger – Earned all-conference first-team honors, was the district Co-Player of the Year and hit the 1,000-point mark for her career. “Emma was a four-year varsity starting post and was the rock for the team since she came in as a freshman,” Dean said. “She was a dominant post that averaged a double-double every night. We miss her rebounding and leadership on the floor and in practice.”
• Briley Bagley – An all-conference honorable mention and all-district selection. “A four-year varsity starter that was an athlete but ended up turning into a basketball player for the program. Her competitive attitude provided the edge on the floor that created energy and confidence throughout the team.” Now playing volleyball and competing in track and field for St. Mary’s University (NAIA Division I).
• Olivia Steimel – A four-year letterwinner who was the Lady Pirates’ sixth man. “She could handle the post play and pass out on the premier. We miss her versatility this season.” Now playing volleyball at Evangel University.
Returning for the Lady Pirates is great deal of talent and experience in Missouri State commit Khloe Moad, Missouri Valley College signee Brittany Gilliland, Emma McClelland and Julianna Torbett.
“Our program has a great opportunity with returning some key seasoned seniors that have racked up a lot of varsity time since their freshman year,” Dean said. “These players all have the desire to prove something within the Southwest Conference and throughout the season.
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“The program has upperclassmen with quality varsity minutes and high expectations, which drives us to keep the Lady Pirates Basketball tradition rolling. We are going to lay out the expectations, focus on the ‘little details’ and take it a day at a time, enjoying the games and teammates. We’re looking forward to a fun and exciting year.”
• Khloe Moad, 6-foot-2 senior small forward – Averaged 15.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.2 steals, 2.2 blocks per game, reached 1,000 career points last season – could hit 1,500 points this season. Was named all-district Co-Player of the Year and first-team all-conference. A three-year varsity starter that plays a stretch 4 for the Lady Pirates. Expecting to sign with MSU. “She will be a player that will be a mismatch in our offense. Also, she is our rim protector. I look forward to her dominating the stat line, both offensively and defensively.”
• Brittany Gilliland, 5-9 senior point guard – Averaged 8.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.4 apg, 3.7 spg; Earned all-district and second-team all-conference honors. A two-year starter who has signed with Missouri Valley College. “She is a point guard that brings a lot of basketball skill-sets to the team. Due to a knee injury during (2020) summer basketball, she was limited until the last 10 games of the season. She had a great summer, defending and setting up teammates with great assists.”
• Emma McClelland, 5-8 senior shooting guard – Averaged 7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.5 apg, 3.0 spg; named all-district. “Emma is a one-year varsity starter that uses her basketball IQ to create efficient opportunities and production. She will step into the role of being the 3-point shooter for the team. She led the team in shooting efficiency.”
• Julianna Torbett, 5-6 senior guard – A one-year starter who averaged 2.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.9 spg. “Juliana is an athlete that will be expected to expand her role as an in-your-face defender, a scorer that can get to the rim and a rebounding guard that sells out for 50/50 balls.”
The Lady Pirates also return juniors Cheylynn Willmon (5-2) and Savanna Pratt (5-9), and sophomores Bethany Wheeler (5-6) and Meagan Hawkins (5-7).
Looking to make an impact this season include 5-10 freshman power forward Cora Duit and 5-7 junior forward Renely Bagley.
“Cora will add length and rebounding to the mix, and Renely will bang inside for us and help with the rebounding stats,” Dean said.
“The growth of our team will be built through the things we call ‘little details.’ We expect to keep a defensive mind-set, out-rebound our opponents, limit turnovers, and keep adding to the confidence we gained from last season and over the summer. We have a great group of ladies that love being around each other and playing for each other.”
The Lady Pirates will participate in a jamboree at Aurora on Nov. 12 before opening the regular season at home against Spokane on Nov. 19.
“Our philosophy for the season is to continue ‘Respect the tradition, Leave a Legacy,’” Dean said. “This stems from my first year and the team’s motto – ‘NO Excuses.’ We took the challenge to heart, making our attitudes and work ethic those of seasoned varsity returners that valued the standard of our program.
“(The district championship) left a taste of wanting more and an attitude that desires more. Every moment throughout last season was a teachable opportunity, allowing us the ability to learn and apply in these moments and strengthen the foundation of our program.”