By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last season proved to be another successful one for the young and emerging Sparta program.
Playing mostly underclassmen, the Lady Trojans notched a second straight 19-win season, falling in the district championship to Strafford.
Head coach Josh Loveland believes his team is poised to take yet another step this season.
“We have high expectations for ourselves this year,” Loveland said. “Last year we played for a Class 3 district championship and started five sophomores. Some of those players have decided to not play or moved out of the district, but with our returning nucleus and our upcomers we will look to compete for that district championship again this year.”
A trio of returnees will lead the Sparta attack in Megan Brown, Shelby McMurry and Aysha Fulton.
Brown, a 5-foot-6 junior, averaged 10.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.1 steals last season. She earned all-conference and all-district honors.
“Megan is going to be one of our leaders,” Loveland said. “She is really excited to get back on the floor after our loss in the district championship game last year.”
One of the area’s top underclassmen two years ago, McMurry returns to the Lady Trojans after sitting out last season. She averaged 10.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.5 steals in her sophomore campaign.
DOWNLOAD THE O-ZONE APP NOW!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR APPLE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR ANDROID
“Shelby sat out her junior year last year but she scored almost 700 points in her freshman and sophomore years while receiving first team all-conference honors both years and first team all-district honors both years.”
Fulton steps into a primary role this season both on and off the court for Sparta.
“Aysha is the type of player that every coach loves to have,” Loveland said. “She does all the little things defensively and she isn’t afraid of big moments offensively. Her leadership and four-year varsity experience will be key for us this year.”
Starters Brooklyn Roller and Brynn Holt, both juniors, also return for the Lady Trojans.
Roller averaged 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds last season, connecting on 29 3-pointers.
“Brooklyn has the ability to hit a lot of shots from the outside and really stretch the defense,” Loveland said. “She also is a great defender and always draws the opponent’s best player.”
Holt averaged 9.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists last season, shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc and connecting on 40 3-pointers.
“Brynn is another returning starter that is going to draw a lot of defensive attention,” Loveland said. “She has a lot of length and uses it well on both ends of the floor.”
Holt was an all-conference honoree as a sophomore.
Ashlyn Roller, Alivia Loveland, Amree Youngmon, Mya Fulton and Averi Leyland will also see expanded roles this season for the Lady Trojans.
Sparta will once again rely on its full-court pressure to wear teams down and generate easy baskets in transition.
“We will be a team that is going to pressure you the full length of the floor for 32 minutes and make you play defense for 32 minutes,” Loveland said. “We believe that we are as good as or better than anybody at a fast pace for 32 minutes. Our transition offense and transition defense are what has made us successful the last couple years and we will continue to build on it every year.”
For Sparta to be successful and capture a district title, Loveland believes limiting turnovers will be a key factor.
“We need to decrease our amount of turnovers from the last couple of seasons,” Loveland said. “When you play at a fast pace and you have a lot of possessions per game you are going to have higher turnovers, naturally, but I feel it is an area where we can make improvements and be more successful.”
Following a Nov. 17 home jamboree with Ozark, Bolivar and Walnut Grove, Sparta will tip off its season Nov. 22 at Diamond.