With the Pink & White Tournament and KTXR Lady Classic reorganized into one big event starting this year, the Nixa girls basketball team figured to be in contention for a No. 1 seed.
But when Ozark and Republic were named the top seeds for the Pink and White divisions, respectively, Nixa fell to a four seed as the tournament committee decided to give teams from outside the region playing in the tournament No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.
But when the ball is in the air, seeds don’t much matter, Lady Eagles coach Jim Middleton said.
“As girls coaches, we put on a unified front — we want to help the girls and give them good opponents and a good experience,” Middleton said. “And I think that’s the thing with this tournament. We’re going to get a chance to see a lot of teams.”
The tournament runs Wednesday through Saturday at Drury University. Games will be played at the O’Reilly Family Event Center and Weiser Gym.
And despite its seed, Nixa figures to be in the mix for the championship of the White Division.
The Eagles, returning much of the firepower from last season’s 20-5 team, are off to a 7-1 start this season.
But there’s still plenty to be figured out, Middleton said.
“Ask me in one month and I’ll give you a more accurate answer,” Middleton said when asked about the state of his team. “We’re heading in the right direction, certainly. We have a big ceiling. We have a lot of opportunity to improve, and that’s exciting to me.”
For the Lady Eagles, the Pink & White is a chance to right some recent missteps in tournament play.
Nixa was unbeaten going into last year’s Pink & White Tournament before being upset by Willard in the second round. This season the Lady Eagles were the top seed in the Joplin Invitational before being upset by Blue Valley West.
“We have to approach every game expecting the unexpected,” senior guard Jeana Raper said. “We got beat by Willard last year and we knew we shouldn’t have. We know we have a target on our back, and there are going to be smaller school teams out to get us.”
Nixa is the No. 4 seed in the White Division of the Tournament, and is scheduled to take on unseeded Clever at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the O’Reilly Family Event Center.
“You’re going to have a lot of teams that are not seeded that are going to be good,” Middleton said. “It’s going to be fun to play our neighbor. I told our players, back in the 70s, this was our first game of the year. That was our big rival. It was even bigger than Nixa/Ozark.”
Republic is the top seed in the White Division while Ozark holds down the top spot in the Pink.
Out-of-state teams DuPont (Ky.) and Jacksonville (Ark.) are the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the White Division while Little Rock Hall (Ark.) and Miller Career are the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the Pink.
“I like (the new format) a lot,” Raper said. It gives us more opportunities to play teams that aren’t from around here, and we get to look at all the teams we could play down the road.”
* Possible darkhorse: Marshfield is the team to watch, and a first-round win against fifth-seeded Ash Grove wouldn’t necessarily be a huge upset. That’s because Marshfield’s top player, junior Lauren Aldridge, is now back from her foot injury.
With Aldridge in the fold all year, the Lady Jays might be seeded. With the junior back, the Jays could win a game – or two.
* Players to watch: Hannah Cook of Ozark, Tamiaya Henderson of Mount Vernon, Hannah Steinmetz of Central, Andi Haney of West Plains, Madi Johnson of Ash Grove, Lauren Aldridge of Marshfield, Natalie Closser of Kickapoo, Braennan Farrar of St. Louis Miller Career, Tyler Scaife of Little Rock (Ark.) Hall and Kylie Painter of Morrisville.
1. Two teams that played in the Class 3 state final last season, Stockton and Mount Vernon, did not get a lot of love from the seeding committee. Stockton is unseeded, and the Lady Mountaineers are seeded eighth. Graduation losses were tough, but both teams could win a game and will certainly be tough outs.
2. Kickapoo should meet Miller Career in the second round, and could be the first local team to give an out-of-town team a scare. The young Lady Chiefs could get hot and pull an upset if the cards – and shots – fall right.
3. Seven city teams are playing in the tournament, with three in the Pink Division. Only one of the teams (Kickapoo) is seeded, so the pressure is on the Lady Chiefs to get at least one win. Glendale and Central will try for wins in the Pink Division, but the deck will be stacked.
* Possible darkhorse: Parkview and Willard are both Class 5 teams that aren’t seeds, and both have the talent to be seeded teams. Their first-round opponents, Branson and Skyline, respectively, could be primed to get upset.
Especially when standout players Aubrey Buckley of Parkview and Amber Percival of Willard get going.
* Players to watch: Alice Heinzler of Republic, Maggie McMenamy of Crane, Jeana Raper of Nixa, Josie Young of Marionville, Moriah Dapprich of Branson, Aubrey Buckley of Parkview, Jessica Jackson of Jacksonville (Ark.), DeAmbra Pilkinton of Fair Grove, Kayla Styles of DuPont (Ky.), Kelsie Cleeton of Hillcrest, Madi Brethower of Skyline and Amber Percival of Willard.
1. Nixa could see some nearby former rivals in the tournament that the Lady Eagles don’t play too much anymore. The Lady Eagles see Clever (10 miles away) and Marionville (20 miles away) in the first two rounds.
And it’s not just a fun chance to reminisce. Both teams have some talent.
2. There are no pushovers in this entire bracket, as all the unseeded teams have some talent.
I’m guessing we see at least one upset, although the seeded teams are strong too. Great overall field.
3. The girls’ tournaments at Drury means McDonald Arena will be without any holiday hoops this year for the first time since 1947.
It’s time to let the old arena rest after years of entertaining basketball, but the memories for many folks in the Ozarks will endure. I wonder if any fans show up there this week out of habit.
— Matt Schoch