For those who thought the run of dominance for the Walnut Grove High School girls basketball team had come to an end, think again.
After back-to-back Class 1 state championships, coach Rory Henry is reloading with a new crop of players, only instead of a quick, shoot-em up corps that launched an incredible 720 3-pointers last year, he’s bringing a big, intimidating bunch to the Polk County League party this season.
This after the team graduated Heather and Lexi Harman and four other seniors. The Harmans are now playing for Drury University.
“Heather and Lexi were two of the best in the area,” Henry said. “We’re totally changing the face of the program. We’re really deep, and we have a lot of kids who didn’t get to play because of all the seniors we had. They will get an opportunity to play this year.”
The group is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Raylie Hejna. Joining her is Jaycie Dishman, a 5-8 senior transfer from Marionville, where she was a three-time all-district player.
Audree Crain, a 5-8 senior, is the only returning starter from last year’s title team.
“We’re using size instead of speed this year,” Henry said. “We sped the game up last year and controlled the tempo. This year, we want to slow the game down. We want to be disciplined, effective and physical. Those will be the keys.”
The reverence Walnut Grove got in the past is waning and was reflected in the seedings for this year’s Fair Play Tournament. The Tigers were seeded second instead of their traditional first seed, but Walnut Grove took that as a challenge and beat No. 1 seed Fair Play by 21.
“We kind of made a statement,” Henry said.
But something he won’t talk too much about is if his team can make it a three-peat this year at state.
“I hate to say it,” he said. “But I like our chances to compete in March. It’s become a tradition here. We like to win.”
• Walnut Grove boys: Like the team’s girls team, the school’s boys squad is looking forward to a good season as the favorite to win the Polk County League.
With high-scoring returners Dallas Hawk and Dallas Meinders, the Tigers look to have a foot up on the rest of the competition.
“We have a lot of depth and kids who love to play,” coach Darrin Meinders said. “Our philosophy on defense is to put as much pressure on the other team as possible.”
But offense will be important as well.
“Offensively, we will push the ball up the floor and play a very attacking style,” the coach said. “We have kids that can shoot it and they will have the green light to shoot it. We want to put pressure on the other team both offensively and defensively.
Hawk, a 6-3 senior, averaged more than 18 points a game while earning all-conference and all-district honors. Meinders said it will be challenging for other teams to match up with him. Dallas Meinders averaged more than 17 points a game last season.
• Fair Play girls: It’s an experienced squad for coach Lynn Long. Four starters return, and the roster has five seniors.
“Depth-wise, we have eight players who will each play in every quarter as well as some talented younger girls who will contribute as the season goes on,” Long said. “We have a good combination of both inside and outside players, which should allow us to play in different ways on a given night.”
One of those key players is Kylie Cantrell, an all-conference, all-district pick who averaged 19 points per game last season.
“Kylie is very quick and athletic with a good shooting stroke, should be one of the best players in the area this year,” Long said. “Lindsey Moore (11ppg) is a very good passer and scorer, twins Paige and Maysee Harmon are very strong and are talented post players who should have big years for us.”
Others include Sadie Shaffer at the post, Britain Curl, Anna Reeves and Bailey Harman.
“I like our chances this year. The girls are having to learn a new system and style of play, but once they make the adjustment we will be competitive with everyone on our schedule,” Long said.
• Fair Play boys: With returning all-conference and all-district player Jalen Wakefield joining two other returning starters, Fair Play looks to be a competitive team.
“We have overall good shooting ability, above average speed and quickness,” said Long, who also coaches the boys team. “We are not very big and inside play and rebounding could be a problem, and we are pretty young in some spots so experience is a concern.”
Jalen, who averaged 19 points per game last year, will be joined by Camden Welch, who averaged 11 points per game as a freshman and Devin Rovenstine, who also started last yeart at point guard as a freshman.
“Devin is much improved over last year, a very good outside shooter, very smart player, does not make many mistakes,” Long said. “Kyle Nottingham came off the bench last year, but should be a major scorer and rebounder for us this year, good outside shooter and very quick and athletic for a post player.”
Long is confident his team will challenge in the league.
“I think we have a chance to be a good team this year and we feel that we will be in the chase for both our conference, and also of repeating our district championship of the past two years,” he said.
Efforts to reach other Polk County League schools were unsuccessful.
Polk County League
Walnut Grove boys: Logan Thomazin (6-1, fr.), Hunter Gilkey (5-8, fr.), Cole Melton (6-3, fr.), Cory Countryman (6-0, fr.), Dallas Hawk (6-3, sr.), Dallas Meinders (6-2, jr.) Ryan Crump (6-1, sr.), Brandon Johnson (6-3, jr.), Jaron Dishman (6-2, so.), Kyle Keith (6-0, so.), Riley Mary (6-3, jr.)
Fair Play boys: Camden Welch (6-0, so.), Ryan Rutledge (6-2, so.), Kyle Nottingham (6-2, sr.), Kohner Thomas (5-10, fr.), Cody Dahlberg (5-11, sr.), Mark Khadyrke (5-9, so.), Devon Rovenstine (5-9, so.) Tyler Mettler (5-11, so.), Jalen Wakefield (5-10, sr.), Justin Smith (6-3, fr.), Kendall Wright (6-0, fr.), Justin Viles (6-3, fr.), Kyler Murphy (5-9, fr.)
Dadeville boys: Jordan Mathiesen (6-0, so.), Teddy McMasters (6-2, so.), Skylor Horton (6-0, fr.), Marcus Keathley (5-8, fr.) Will Sappington (5-10, sr.), Jayse Muncy (6-0, so.), Wyatt Sneed (6-0, so.), Jarrett Sappington (5-11, so.), Zeb Medley (5-8, jr.), Christian Long (5-22, sr.), Luis Lopez (6-0,sr.).
Walnut Grove girls: Carrigan Comstock (G, 6-4, sr.), Bayley Harman (F, 5-7, fr.), Ellen Hayter (G, 5-5, sr.), Jaycie Dishman (F, 5-8, sr.), Audree Crain (G/F, 5-8, sr.), Mikayla Louderbaugh, (F, 5-10, so.), Raylie Hejna (F, 6-1, so.), Katelynn Garoutte, (F, 5-8, so.), Grace Miller (F, 5-7, fr.).
Dadeville girls: Ashley Brannon (5-3, sr.), Kylie Dean (5-10, sr.), Ashton Neely (5-1, fr.), Alyson Jarman 1(5-7, sr.), Addie Goodman (5-4, jr.), Ellie Melton (5-5, sr.), Jaycee Herd (5-7, sr.), Becky Yocom (5-11, sr.)
Fair Play girls: Kylie Cantrell (G, 5-7, sr.), Ashton Curl (G, 5-5, fr.), Brittian Curl (F, 5-6, sr.), Bailey Harman (G, 5-6, sr.), Maysee Harman (F, 5-10, so.), Paige Harman, (F, 5-8, so.), Mikayla Kuhn (F, 5-5, jr.), Lindsey Moore (G, 5-3, sr.) Lilli Neil (G, 5-9, fr.) Morgan Ragain (F, 5-5, so.), Anna Reeves (G, 5-6, jr.) Mercedes Schaffer (F, 5-8, sr.), Dahlia Simpson (G, 5-3, fr.) Whitney Skopec (G, 4-9, fr.) Summer Sterling (F, 5-8, so.), Carla Bayer (F, 5-2, so.)
December: 8-13 – Wheatland at Hermitage Tournament, 9 – Weaubleau at Hermitage, Walnut Grove at Greenfield, 11 – Marion C. Early at Dadeville, 12 – Everton at Walnut Grove at Dadeville, Exeter at Walnut Grove, 15 – Pleasant Hope at Walnut Grove, 16 – Niangua at Wheatland, Dadeville at Golden City, Halfway at Climax Springs, 18 – Lockwood at Dadeville, Fair Play at Halfway, Wheatland at Walnut Grove, 19 – Dadeville at Hermitage, Halfway at Niangua, 20-30 – Walnut Grove at Walnut Grove Holiday Classic.
January: 5 – Walnut Grove at Buffalo, 6- Wheatland at Sheldon, Hermitage at Weaubleau – Walnut Grove at Hermitage, 8 – Fair Play at Dadeville, 9 – Wheatland at Weaubleau, Dadeville at Half Way, 12-17- Dadeville at Golden City Tournament, 13 – Marion C. Early at Walnut Grove, 15 – Walnut Grove at Humansville, 16 – Macks Creek at Walnut Grove, 17 – Halfway at Macks Creek, 19-24 – Dadeville at Stockton Tournament, 22 – Wheatland at Osceola, 23 – Walnut Grove at Weaubleau, Hermitage at Halfway, Wheatland at Lakeland, 27 – Greenfield at Dadeville, Wheatland at Fair Play, 29- Walnut Grove at Purdy, Dadeville at New Covenant, 30 – Dadeville at Wheatland.
February: 2- Sheldon at Dadeville, Montrose at Weaubleau, 3 – Walnut Grove at Dadeville, Wheatland at Half Way, 6 – Humansville at Dadeville, Halfway at Walnut Grove, Wheatland at Macks Creek, 9 – Weaubleau at Osceola, 11 – Climax Springs at Wheatland, 13 – Dadeville at Weaubleau, 9-14 Walnut Grove at Seymour Tournament, 17 – Wheatland at Humasnville, Walnut Grove at Fair Play, Stockton at Dadeville,18 0 Appleton City at Wheatland, 19 – Fordland at Walnut Grove, Hermitage at Wheatland.
December: 1-6 Walnut Grove at Marionville Tournament, 9 – Climax Springs at Wheatland, Weaubleau at Grenwood, Miller at Walnut Grove, 11- Marion C. Early at Dadeville, Weaubleau at Macks Creek, Everton at Walnut Grove, 12 – Everton at Dadeville, 13- Walnut Grove at Iberia, 16 – Niangua at Wheatland, Dadeville at Golden City, Weaubleau at Lakeland, Walnut Grove at Lockwood, Halfway at Climax Springs, 18 – Lockwood at Dadeville , Fair Play at Halfway Wheatland at Walnut Grove, Wheatland at Walnut Grove,19 – Dadeville at Hermitage, Climax Springs at Weaubleau, 19 – 20-31 – Walnut Grove at Walnut Grove Holiday Classic.
January: 3 – Exeter at Halfway, 5 – Weaubleau at Appleton City, 6- Sheldon at Wheatland, Hermitage at Weaubleau, Hurley at Halfway, Pleasant Hope at Walnut Grove, 8 – Fair Play at Dadeville, 9- Wheatland at Weaubleau, Dadeville at Halfway, Walnut Grove at Hermitage, 15 – Walnut Grove at Humansville, 20 – Halfway at Weaubleau, Walnut Grove at Fordland, 22 – Wheatland at Osceola 23 – Wheatland at Lakeland, Hermitage at Halfway, Walnut Grove at Weaubleau, 24 – Walnut Grove at Clever, 26 – Halfway at Pleasant Hope, 27 – Fair Play at Wheatland, Greenfield at Dadeville, 29 – Chadwick at Halfway, 29-31 – Walnut Grove at Nixa Tournament, 30 – Dadeville at Wheatland, Everton at Halfway.
February: 2- Sheldon at Dadeville, Montrose at Weaubleau, 3 – Weaubleau at Humansville, Walnut Grove at Dadeville, Wheatland at Halfway, 5 – Halfway at Greenwood, 6 – Wheatland at Mackes Creek, Weaubleau at Shelton, Halfway at Walnut Grove, Humansville at Walnut Grove at Dadeville, 9 – Weaubleau at Osceola, 9-14 – Wheatland at Halfway Tournament, 10 – Marion C. Early at Walnut Grove, 13 – El Dorado Springs at Walnut Grove, Dadeville at Weaubleau, 16 – Wheatland at Halfway , 17 – Wheatland at Humansville, Stockton at Walnut Grove at Dadeville, Halfway at Macks Creek, Walnut Grove at Fair Play, 18 – Appleton City at Wheatland, 19 – Halfway at Humansville, Weaubleau at Fair Play, Hermitage at Wheatland.