Walnut Grove hopes to make new memories at state tournament

Walnut Grove hopes to make new memories at state tournament

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Walnut Grove hopes to make new memories at state tournament

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WALNUT GROVE

Heather Harman has four pictures taped to her locker in the Walnut Grove High School Fieldhouse, serving as a daily reminder of why she’s putting in the effort this season.

They are images from the aftermath of last season’s Class 1 state final, where her Lady Tigers lost to Eminence on a pair of late free throws.

There’s one of the scoreboard, showing Eminence winning 36-35 after Katrina Nichols hit a pair of free throws with 3.2 seconds left at Mizzou Arena.

There’s a picture of Harman and a few of her teammates crying with the opponents cheering in the background.

It’s the worst day of Harman’s basketball career, but she wants them there to see every day.

“I guess it’s motivation,” the junior said Monday. “I just put myself back in that situation to just remember how it feels. Sometimes when I don’t feel like being here, I remember how that felt, and the reason that I am here.”

This weekend, Harman and her teammates have a chance to create new lasting images.

Harman and her cousin Lexi Harman are leading the young Lady Tigers back to state with hopes for a better result. The team, which has no seniors, plays Chadwick in Thursday’s 6:40 p.m. semifinal at the Hearnes Center in Columbia.

The Lady Tigers (28-2) have not played their Christian County foes this season, although Chadwick did participate in the Walnut Grove Holiday Classic, taking fourth place after losses to Pleasant Hope and Southwest.

Meanwhile, the Lady Tigers topped both teams en route to the tournament title.

A 15-game winning streak and a No. 1 ranking in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association has Walnut Grove confident for its first state title since 2006-07. Darin Meinders coached the Lady Tigers that year, and he’ll be coaching Chadwick in Thursday’s semifinal.

For Thursday’s winner, a date with Mizzou signee Sierra Michaelis of Mercer could loom in Saturday’s final.

Michaelis, a 5-foot-10 guard, needs 77 points to tie the state’s all-time scoring mark, which is held by Missouri State’s Hannah Wilkerson, who set the record at Miller in 2010.

Facing such a prolific scorer wouldn’t be Walnut Grove’s first bout with adversity this year. Junior Megan Shuler, expected to be a significant contributor, has missed the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

It’s an injury known well to girls basketball teams everywhere, and Walnut Grove is no different. Lexi Harman played with a torn ACL her entire freshman year, and wore a large brace on the right knee last season.

Now healthy and brace-less, the junior guard has stepped into the role of co-star with Heather, who is actually her third cousin.

“People don’t understand how good she was as a freshman before she tore her ACL,” coach Rory Henry said. “She’s kind of slowly been building up to 100 percent. It seems like the last month of this season, she’s really I think starting the reach the potential that everyone saw as a freshman.

“She’s just becoming a great player, and especially over the past two weeks, she’s been incredible.”

Lexi Harman scored 24 points, had 11 rebounds and added five steals to lead the Lady Tigers in Saturday’s 64-45 quarterfinal win against Drexel.

Leading the stat sheet all season, though, has been Heather Harman, who has a Division I scholarship offer from Southeast Missouri State, along with offers from Southwest Baptist, Drury and College of the Ozarks.

Harman is averaging 19.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists this season, leading the team in each category. She passed 1,000 career points in her team’s opening game, and recently passed 1,500.

“Since she’s been a freshman, she’s put up amazing numbers,” Henry said. “But off the stat sheet, the way she runs our offense, she’s now a coach on the floor. She gets everybody involved, and then defensively, she’s gotten better every game.”

Karsyn Hejna, Madisyn Freeze and Audree Crain round out the typical Walnut Grove starting lineup, and each average more than 8.0 points per game. In addition, Miranda Allison is a part-time starter.

It’s a group that has a great chance to erase the bad memories from last season.

“That’s been our main goal all year, and that’s what we’ve been working for,” Lexi Harman said. “I think anything less than that would be a disappointment.”

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