The Nixa High School boys’ basketball team might get more of the hype, but you don’t have to look too far for another team with top-level talent and high expectations.
Just a few miles down the road, in fact.
The Ozark High School girls’ basketball team also features a pair of potential NCAA Division I signees, a pedigree of a postseason runs and the mindset of a final four or bust.
“It’s really to that extent for us,” said junior Hannah Cook. “I think we like the pressure of that goal, it gives us more motivation.
“We haven’t won state in (Class 5) and that’s what we want to do.”
Cook, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, has a substantial amount of college offers already on the table and is looking to become just the second NCAA Division I signee in the program’s history. Senior guard Haylee Beard was the program’s first, inking a letter of intent with the University of Texas-San Antonio on Tuesday, eschewing other offers that included some Ivy League schools.
“It’s really unique and really awesome to have two of us like that,” Beard said. “If you just look at the schools around us, it’s not happening everywhere.
“It probably adds some pressure because everyone has expectations and then you get compared against one another and there’s a competitiveness that starts to arise.”
With two highly talented players playing a game that only has five spots on the floor at a time, that underlying competitiveness is evident.
That doesn’t have to mean negative. Senior teammate Jackie Fugate — a four-year starter on Ozark’s four straight volleyball final four teams — says Beard and Cook lift the intensity of the team.
“Both being D-I, they have that drive and competitiveness and they want the team to do well,” Fugate said. “They are two of the most competitive people I’ve seen and, when you are around people like that, you want to be like them and have that competitiveness yourself.”
The two players offer distinctly different skill sets and are surrounded by talented players.
Beard, a 5-foot-9 guard, is a pure shooter, averaging 10.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game last season. Cook — who currently has offers from Missouri State, Creighton, Drake, Southeast Missouri State, Drury and Harding – can create her own shot as well as knock down shots from the perimeter. She averaged 10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
“I know I don’t care and I don’t think Hannah cares who scores for our team either,” Beard said. “We just want to have team chemistry and let the game flow, not try to outdo one another, but just work really hard together.
“We’ve got a lot of people that can score and winning is more important to us.”
Ozark was 24-5 last season, the end coming in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Columbia Rock Bridge. To get that coveted Class 5 title, the Lady Tigers will have to get past the Lady Bruins. Rock Bridge is the preseason No. 1, according to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association, and Ozark is ranked fourth.
Beard and Cook could be the difference-makers, setting up Ozark as one of the few teams in the state capable of unseating the Lady Bruins.
“Our program has been very successful, had a lot of good players for a long time and long before I got here,” Ozark coach Yancey Little said. “So it’s a pretty big deal that Haylee is the first D-I signee and even bigger if Hannah is fortunate enough to do so, too.
“To have two playing together, that’s a coach’s dream in a sense.”