Female Athlete of the Year: West Plains' Andi Haney makes her presence felt, on and off the court

Female Athlete of the Year: West Plains' Andi Haney makes her presence felt, on and off the court


Female Athlete of the Year: West Plains' Andi Haney makes her presence felt, on and off the court


Many of the memorable moments in Andi Haney’s career at West Plains High School played out in gyms across southwest Missouri with locals curious to watch a small-town star with a big-time heart.

There was the time she broke the school’s all-time scoring record, or the district final where she guided the Lady Zizzers to an upset over the defending state champions in an overtime classic.

However, as she moves on to play basketball at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., Haney’s legacy goes far beyond the court.

It’s more about moments when, thanks to the senior’s efforts, the coach’s wife — trying to beat cancer — paid off thousands in medical bills. In fact, a piece of equipment at the local medical center could one day soon boast that it was paid for by the West Plains Lady Zizzers. Shop with a Cop. Habitat for Humanity. The list goes on.

Haney was the driving force for those moments, the all-time leading scorer and catalyst of a special era for West Plains, and will move on to play NCAA Division II basketball with her sister. As caring of a citizen as she is a fierce competitor, Haney is the News-Leader’s Female Athlete of the Year, an annual honor chosen by the sports staff.

“I honestly just see it as a way for new opportunities,” Haney said of moving on to college. “It’s just a part of life and although I’m going to miss the great people of West Plains, I’m looking forward to playing with my sister again, and meeting new great people at Harding.”

Haney closed four-year basketball and softball careers with more honors and titles, and added track and field state qualifier to her legacy as a senior.

And her leadership stretches beyond the court.

Basketball coach Scott Womack’s wife, Carrie, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, and it returned in the form of bone cancer in September 2011.

Haney always helped the family in small ways, but wanted to figure out a big way. Through the National Honor Society, she led the development of an alumni game fundraiser for the Womacks. Six years after Carrie’s original diagnosis, the family still owed money from the original treatments.

Haney contacted alumni, put together a benefit dinner, and acquired donated items for silent and live auctions.

The event last spring raised more than $12,000 for the Womacks.

“We were just drowning in medical bills,” Carrie Womack said. “I was able to go out that next week, I was able to issue a check, and I was able to pay that completely off. It was so much off our family’s shoulders.

“She’s just a terrific young woman.”

Haney was not done yet.

She wanted West Plains to join area schools with a Pink Out game to benefit cancer research or care.

When told there was no money in the budget for a pink set of uniforms, Haney went to work.

She organized a garage sale, a bake sale, and other benefits to purchase pink uniforms not only for the varsity, but also the junior varsity and freshman teams.

The game was a success, and $2,200 went to the Ozarks Medical Center Foundation. Carrie Womack, who works at the local medical center, said the foundation is seeking avenues to use the money, in addition to funds raised by future Pink Out games.

It all made Haney an easy choice for her school’s Citizen of the Year Award. And it helped make her an exemplary selection for the News-Leader’s award.

As did her play.

West Plains becomes the 10th school in southwest Missouri to have an athlete win the News-Leader’s award, which is in its 10th year of honoring a local male and female individual.

The Howell County city is nearly a two-hour drive to Springfield, and somewhat on an island compared to other similar-sized cities in the region.

But Haney and the Lady Zizzers made sure long Ozark Conference rides to Joplin and Camdenton, for instance, were worth it. Arriving home at 1 a.m. is a lot easier when you win.

The Lady Zizzers finished in the top three each season in the OC, traditionally one of the state’s best girls basketball leagues.

Her freshman year, coach Womack was reluctant to let Andi play point guard. But before long, Andi and junior sister Tabitha’s guard roles were interchangeable.

It was nothing new. Andi always played up in age at camps and on summer teams with Tabitha’s age group.

Tabitha recalled a time her first grade and much-smaller sister made an impression in a fourth-grade game coached by their father.

“She ran and fouled this girl a lot bigger than her so hard that the girl flew under the scorer’s table,” Tabitha said. “Within a few minutes, Andi already had four fouls and had to go back to the bench. But the referees always asked Dad to put her back in because she was entertaining and all over the place.”

Haney’s tenacity created foul problems throughout her career, something she learned to control. Also, early on, she basically just penetrated offensively.

But her work ethic and willingness to improve weaknesses added facets to her game each offseason, a trait she shares with basketball’s greats.

Sophomore year, it was an improved outside shot. Junior year, a step-back jumper. Then, as a senior, she could pull up and shoot off the dribble.

Those shots were honed in individual sessions in the West Plains gym. Even during the season on Sundays, Womack would open the gym for about 90 minutes on the team’s day off for Haney to work with “The Gun” shooting apparatus.

“I would make 50 free throws, and then 25 from each spot, and then shoot some threes, and then follow up with 100 free throws,” she said. “I liked getting in there Sundays after church. I don’t know that it actually helped but it made me feel prepared at least.”

There is evidence it helped as all-state honors followed, and Haney attracted notice. She received scholarship offers from Division I Southeast Missouri State and D-II Drury, along with interest from Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference.

But her full-ride offer to Harding, a D-II Churches of Christ school, to rejoin forces with Tabitha, was too tempting to pass up.

“When I was looking at my college quest, I considered if I would go to this school if they didn’t have basketball,” Andi Haney said. “I’m trying to prepare myself for life, as well. And I think Harding is the best fit for that.”

There, Haney could again share ball-handling duties with Tabitha and move her sister to her more natural position off the ball.

After signing, the 5-foot-6 Haney was focused on finishing her West Plains career with a trip to state. Those chances were helped by a move down to Class 4.

West Plains lost one regular-season game, and usually won in blowout fashion en route to the OC title.

In February at Lebanon, Haney made a first-quarter free throw to break the school scoring record, set in 1999 by Kerensa Barr, who went on to star at the University of Missouri.

It all led to a district final showdown against Republic, which returned many top players from the 2012 Class 4 state champs.

Haney scored 27 points to lead a comeback effort, but Republic led by one point with 11.5 seconds left in overtime.

Womack drew up a play for a driving Haney. The defense collapsed, but Haney found an open shooter. After a miss, Hannah Riggs buried a 12-foot buzzer-beater to win.

“Two or three years ago, (Haney) maybe would’ve taken a bad shot, but she found an open shooter,” Womack said. “I think, even though we missed, Andi drawing the defense left them scrambling and enabled us to get the offensive rebound.”

West Plains fell in sectionals to eventual state runner-up Webb City. But the run included Haney’s third district title.

Everything on the court could someday be forgotten. But Haney’s citizenship and generosity will be remembered for a long time.

“What she’s done for the school and community, she’s just a person who wants to help people,” Scott Womack said. “We just owe so much to her just because what she’s meant to us.

“She’s meant so much to the community of West Plains. She took things on herself as a leader to get things done.”


More USA TODAY High School Sports