The Republic High School girls’ basketball team will take the court tonight for the first time as “defending state champions.”
It’s a label that presents a challenge and perhaps a little extra motivation for opponents this season.
But it’s also a reminder of the Lady Tigers’ ability to respond to such challenges, which could be key in its title defense.
“We try to stay centered on this year,” senior Lindsey Carlson said. “It’s in the back of our minds. We know we’re a bit of a target this year.”
Republic will try to stay centered without its center, as Alexis Edwards is now at Southwest Baptist University.
That’s size coach Kris Flood’s team will miss, forcing the 5-foot-9 Carlson almost exclusively down low, and demanding 5-foot-6 senior Sarah Kreul to do even more dirty work against bigger players.
Kreul also said the returning guards, including SBU-bound Alex Botkin and College of the Ozarks signee Alice Heinzler, will need to push the ball more in transition to make up for the team’s lack of size.
Last year, Republic used a balanced effort, as every player made contributions during a run through Class 4 that many thought was unlikely.
Flood said the team’s five returning seniors, including guard Kayla Bartelsmeyer, are the starters.
“They’ve played together since about second grade,” the coach said of the seniors. “They have a good chemistry, they can read each other well and are very coachable. They’re probably one of the better groups that I’ve had come through.”
Sophomores Michayla Shanks, Micah Mansker and 6-foot-1 Tori Taylor should help provide depth, and are coming along in the preseason, said Kreul, who will play volleyball at C of O.
Republic plays in the Aurora Tournament tonight in a semifinal game. The Lady Tigers are the top seed in a strong five-team field, which includes defending Class 3 state champion Mount Vernon and Class 1 runner-up Walnut Grove.
But once again, the Lady Tigers will not be expected to win the Central Ozark Conference championship, as Class 5 powers Ozark and Nixa are picked ahead of Republic.
While Republic has celebrated the school’s first state title since 2004, it doesn’t change the approach of the players to the upcoming season.
“The words ‘defending state champions’ have not been uttered yet,” Kreul said. “We’re a different team.”