It’s been proven in recent years that the path to the Class 3 high school girls’ basketball state championship goes through southwest Missouri.
And this year, because of a crop of talented post players in the region, the path through southwest Missouri in Class 3 might go right through the paint.
The last three state champions in Class 3 have been from the Ozarks, and an area team has played in the state final every year since 2006. Since the state went to five classes in 2003, the area has won six state championships.
Last year was a banner year for banners for local Class 3 girls. The Ozarks sent three teams to Columbia for state, as Seymour took fourth place, and Mount Vernon topped Stockton for its second state title in three years.
There have been some changes, though, as Seymour dropped to Class 2, the defending champions have a new coach, and a flurry of impressive perimeter players have moved on. The Ozarks graduated five guards who earned Class 3 all-state distinctions last season.
This year, the Mid-Lakes Conference race, which features five Class 3 teams and two Class 2 powers, could give us a clue as to which team might be on the road to state in Class 3.
“The Mid-Lakes Conference is traditionally one of, if not the best, Class 3 conferences in the state,” Ash Grove coach Brent Milleson said. “The conference is the most balanced this season than at any other time in my tenure.”
Ash Grove has seven juniors that lead the way, led by 6-foot forward Lakin Simmerman. She has averaged a double-double in each of her first two seasons.
At Fair Grove, 6-foot-2 senior center Morgan Kensinger should lead a group of three returning starters.
“In our conference, we are loaded with talent,” Fair Grove coach Jenny Talbert said. “Morgan has a chance to be one of the best post players in the state.”
Stockton loses all-state twins Garrett and Ashli Burton, but will return a formidable sophomore duo up front. Sydnee Garrett was a 5-foot-10 starter last season, and 6-foot-3 Jolene Shipps can become one of the state’s best over time.
“She started playing basketball in the seventh grade, so she is always learning,” Stockton coach Kevin Burns said. “But she has the potential to improve with the tools she possesses.”
Defending champion Mount Vernon lost star perimeter players Amelia Bramer and Danielle Goodman, as well as coach Doug Hepler, who moved out east to be closer to family.
But the Lady Mountaineers return senior Tamiaya Henderson, who averaged 13 points and eight rebounds last year and earned second-team all-state honors. In addition, Jamie LaSalle will take over on the bench.
He has coaching experience across the region, and also has his senior daughter, Audrey, ready to step into an expanded role to help get pressure off Henderson in the post.
The eastern part of the region also has a couple of South Central Association teams ready to be a factor in the postseason. They also feature a group of 6-footers, as Mountain Grove has senior Maddie Halford, and Willow Springs features senior twins Kyra and Kyndall Bunch.
Mountain View-Birch Tree Liberty and Thayer also will be strong, according to the SCA coaches.
Other top Class 3 teams in the region include Licking, which returns double-figure scorers Emily Smith, Megan Smith and Bailie Osborne; and Dixon, which boasts prolific scorer Hunter Yoakum.
High school basketball previews
Sunday: Class 5 District 9 and 11
Monday: Class 5 District 10 and 12
Tuesday: Class 4
Today: Class 3
Thursday: Class 2 and 1
A look at the players and teams to watch this season in Class 3, plus Matt Schoch’s thoughts on who will be standing from the area at the end of district play.