Since the Missouri State High School Activities Association went to five classes in 2003, the southwest Missouri boys’ high school basketball scene has sent more than one team to small-school state every year but one.
That one year (2005) saw coach Ted Young and the Marionville boys’ team earn a Class 2 state championship.
So, the pressure is on a handful of teams to keep the spring tradition of state trips alive in the Ozarks.
One team that welcomes the challenge is defending Class 2 state champion Billings.
The Wildcats return their two top players in Austin Essick and Brady Chastain. Coach Kendall Tilley’s team should receive increased production from Chastain, who was hampered by an injury last season.
His versatility could make up for key losses of two starters, including point guard Kaleb Harter.
Locally, there doesn’t appear to be much standing in the way of Billings. But the Billings players know teams that can score are always dangerous. Take two years ago, when top-seeded Billings was upset in the first round of districts by New Covenant.
As for city teams, look for Greenwood to improve throughout the season for coach Darren Taylor.
But in consecutive seasons, Taylor has lost Hawken Thieme and Tim Looney to graduation. That’s two all-state players, and that’s too much to replace.
Coach Mike Foley’s New Covenant team should win a lot of games, and score a lot of points.
Senior Jarred Schrader, Chace Smartt and Austin Cassity each averaged 17 points or more per game last year.
In Class 1, all-state players such as Alex Oserowsky of Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, Mike Buerge of Climax Springs and Adam Teague of Fair Play have graduated.
In addition, fourth-place Osceola lost senior twins Jared and Jordan Pearson from last year, a duo that fueled its postseason run.
That means it might be wide open for area Class 1 teams. Fair Play, Eminence, Hurley and Everton are four teams to watch this season that could end up making it to Columbia.
Fair Play still has talent left from a 25-3 season for coach Lynn Long, and Hurley has seniors Tyler Simpson and Jalyn Wilson forming a potent duo.
This could be the year for Eminence, which had a girls’ state title last year, and Everton could give Fair Play a tough game in District 5.