By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Denny Young coached in a different state for nearly two decades. Still, he was always familiar with Thayer High School athletics.
So, when Thayer needed a new head coach for girls’ basketball after last school year, Young knew it was time to make a move.
Just two miles north on Highway 63, in fact.
Young, who wore “many hats” at Mammoth Spring (Ark.) over 17 years, is eager to make his mark on a new program in a new state.
“I’ve had great relationships with the administration and folks in the Thayer athletic department and have appreciated what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last several years, both educationally and athletically, with their kids,” he said. “I turned down a couple different opportunities to come here early in my career and knew I didn’t want to miss the chance when offered the position this time.”
Young takes over a Thayer program that won the Class 2 state championship in 2019.
In terms of playing style, don’t expect a complete overhaul. Young wants to maintain Thayer’s tradition of tough defense and physical play.
“Defensively we’d like to play the style that these girls have played for years,” he said. “We will also try to speed folks up with some three-quarters and full-court presses. Offensively, we want to pound the ball into the paint so that it allows our guards to get great looks from the outside.
“We need to be the toughest team on the court night in and night out. We want to hang our hats on our defense and be able to inside-out folks with our height on the inside and ability to score from the outside.”
The Lady Bobcats welcome back six players with varsity experience in Young’s first season at the helm.
Thayer has guard Madison Neldon and forward Callie Johnson in the senior class.
Neldon’s known for her defense.
“She is a great defender and will be asked to play some big minutes for us this year in the backcourt,” Young said.
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Johnson is one of the team’s most experienced players and looking for a breakout season.
“She’s a great outside shooter who has worked hard in the offseason to be a force in the paint,” Young said.
Junior Maddy Donahue was an all-district forward last season and figures to be one of Thayer’s primary scorers this year.
“She’s a strong forward who can post and still step out and hit big shots as well,” Young said. “Her work ethic over the summer is paying big dividends and we look for her to have a great year.”
Junior guard Katie Pounders added strength and power to her game during the offseason.
“She will play a vital role this year with her physical toughness and ability to get to the rim and score from the outside,” Young said.
Thayer returns three sophomores who were varsity reserves as freshmen.
Natalyn Price’s biggest contributions don’t always show up in the stat sheet.
“She brings a physical toughness and skill-set to this group that makes us much better defensively, and, on the glass,” Young said. “She has a knack for the ball and had a great offseason. With more reps she will only get better.”
Kylie Price is a 5’9” left-handed forward who can create matchup problems.
“She could be the difference-maker for us in the paint with her ability to get to the rim and rebound,” Young said.
Jaylie Haven gives Thayer additional depth in the backcourt with her athleticism and scoring ability.
Thayer finished 10-9 overall last season.
The Lady Bobcats fell short of a third straight district championship; they lost 51-37 loss to Twin Rivers in the Class 3 District 1 Tournament finals.
Now three years removed from a state championship, Thayer must replace a sizeable portion of its varsity roster.
The Lady Bobcats graduated three starters in guard Maddy Kerley, guard Avery Pierce and forward Katie Wade. Kerley was a second team all-conference selection and four-year starter.
“She was a key playmaker and scorer for the team last season,” Young said.
Off the bench, Thayer also graduated Marissa Webber, Haddlee Atkisson and Cailee Garrison.
Young said Thayer’s former head coach, Cecil Meyer, built a culture that eased this coaching transition.
“Coach Meyer did an outstanding job while he was here at Thayer and I knew coming in the girls were used to competing daily, had great work ethics and expected to win,” Young said. “Another thing that makes Thayer special is the amount of young talent that they have not only in the high school but all the way to the elementary level as well.”
Plenty of help is on the way as Thayer reshuffles its roster.
Junior Haylie Larsen transferred from nearby Couch High School and could become Thayer’s primary point guard.
“With her ability to handle the ball and make plays for her teammates, she will be a big asset to our team,” Young said. “She also has the ability to get to the rim and knock down big outside shots.”
Sophomore Audrey Harris provides more speed and defense on the perimeter.
A promising freshmen class features multiple players who will make an instant impact.
Abby Bowers was a star on Thayer’s junior high teams and is already one of the better athletes on the varsity team.
“She will see a lot of minutes this year at guard,” Young said. “She has a lot of upside, with the ability to handle the basketball and score as well.”
Hadley Meyer, a 5’10” forward, will help on the interior.
“She has good hands and feet and has the mental and physical toughness to be a force in the lane,” Young said.
Guard Riley Pierce and forward Savannah Wheeler (5’10”) are two other freshmen contending for playing time.
“Riley has grown over the summer and will be asked to handle the ball and run our offense from time to time,” Young said. “Savannah worked hard in the offseason to get stronger around the rim and will help us down the stretch this year.”
Thayer plays in a jamboree on November 16 against Doniphan (host), West Plains and Sikeston.