By Matt Turer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Kevin Cheek and Skyline girls basketball just win. A season ago—for the seventh time in nine seasons—the Lady Tigers advanced to the final four, finishing as Class 3 runners-up after a 56-52 final against Lift for Life Charter Academy.
In the last 10 seasons alone the Lady Tigers have won 256 games and lost just 58 under Cheek—an unbelievable .815 win percentage.
How do they keep winning? Tradition, trust, and expectations.
“We have people in key spots we trust who let kids start playing basketball the right way as third, fourth and fifth graders and can keep them playing all the way to seventh grade,” Cheek, who won his first state title as head coach of the Lady Tigers in 2003, said. “We take them in seventh and eighth grade, and by the time they’re juniors, we’ve taught them about everything they know. The terminology (in high school) is the same things we started them with in [junior high].
“It’s a group of kids at a young age who want to play basketball. This is what the kids expect. They’ve watched the other groups work and they figure out what it takes.”
The Lady Tigers enter the 2021-22 season with three returning All-Mid-Lakes selections, including first-team seniors Justine Barb (14.9 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.8 SPG) and Miranda Quennoz (14.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.3 SPG) and second-team senior Alyee Gunter (10.1 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 SPG).
“Miranda does a lot for us offensively,” Cheek said. “She gets us where we need to be.”
Barb, Gunter and junior guard Emily Edwards (4.0 PPG) are all recovering from injuries suffered last season. Cheek confirmed Gunter will be ready for the opener.
“We’re happy the kids who are injured are making progress,” Cheek said.
Cheek called junior forward Grace Edge (6.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.8 SPG) his best returning defender.
“Grace had a great summer,” Cheek said. “Offensively, she has to get more aggressive. Defensively, she’s that kid who can go and guard multiple kids [and positions].”
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Skyline also brings back seniors Maryn Curnett and Breanna James and junior Shayla Lynn. Plus, sophomores Riley James, Ashton Cooley and Mariah Pitts and freshmen Ashlyn Garrett, Sadie Redd, Autumn Baldwin, Lily Lynn, Cela Anderson, Jaden Barb and Kenzi Cheek.
“We have a good core group and some sophomores who can contribute in the right spots,” Cheek said. “They’re going to be able to do it in the right way. And our freshman class is huge. It’s so hard for a freshman to play varsity, but there are good kids there.”
The Lady Tigers had three players averaging over 12 points per game last season with five more pushing double figures. That balance is typical for the Lady Tigers.
“When you do that, it makes you hard to guard,” Cheek said. “As a group, you have to have multiple kids who can change the game offensively, and if you’re smart about finding the right matchup, that kid will have a good night.
“The way this team plays as a group is really encouraging. We have a group who truly don’t care how many points they’ve got as long as they’re ahead in the end.”
Skyline will not jamboree this fall. The Lady Tigers are scheduled to open the 2021-22 campaign on Nov. 29 in the 34th annual Warsaw Girls Invitational before opening at home against Morrisville/Marion C. Early on December 13.
The Tigers will again compete in the Pink & White Tournament from December 27-30 and host the 15th annual Skyline Girls Basketball Tournament from January 8-15.