The fall season of high school sports officially wraps up Thanksgiving weekend with five state championship games in Springfield.
When the action concludes at Plaster Sports Complex, focus officially shifts to winter sports. Here are just six of the dozens of story lines worth tracking in southwest Missouri as the winter sports season unfolds:
Eagles soaring in their pink socks
The Eagles went 29-4 and captured the Class 2 boys basketball state championship. What’s more, they did it wearing pink socks in every game in honor of coach Brett Reed’s mother and guard Grant Dedmon’s grandmother. Both battled breast cancer throughout a season that saw Hartville bring home its first-ever state championship.
Dedmon graduated, as did leading scorer Ryan Ward and guard Tyler Coday. However, the Eagles bring back a core group of contributors like guards Dune Piper and Jace Keith, forward Deric Jones and sixth man Wyatt Ward. Hartville brings a 19-game winning streak into the 2016-2017 season, and holds the No. 1 ranking in the Class 2 Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll.
What’s next for the team that captivated a town and won the News-Leader Sports Awards Team of the Year Award? We’re all about to find out.
Another Hayley-bomb set to drop?
Strafford led St. James 12-7 at the end of the first quarter in the Class 3 playoff quarterfinals when a power outage plunged the O’Reilly Family Event Center into darkness. Fans sat anxiously in the dark until Drury University officials used a backup generator to power the arena.
Hayley Frank, then a 6-foot-1 freshman, bombed home a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer from 65 feet that re-electrified the arena and sparked Strafford on to its first-ever girls basketball final four. After that, Strafford powered through two more games to win the state title and finish the season 30-3.
Three of five starters return for coach Steve Frank’s squad of defending state champions, which should make for some dynamic basketball to watch.
Golden boy wrestles for a repeat
Willard senior Niko Chavez enters his senior year coming off a 51-3 junior campaign in which he won the Class 3 state wrestling championship at 138 pounds. Chavez’s varsity career record stands at 139-12 with a season to go.
He has finished no worse than sixth place at the MSHSAA state championships. Chavez racked up 215 takedowns and 27 pins on the way to winning the 2016 state title.
In spite of his state title win, Chavez enters the season as the No. 2-rated wrestler in his weight class according to RankWrestlers.com, behind Wolfgang Clapper of Grain Valley. Willard is also the No. 8-ranked team in Class 3 in the preseason. We’ll see what Chavez and the Tigers can do to earn some more respect.
Speed in the water
State champion Molly Moore returns for a Summit Prep team full of talent. Moore won the 50-yard freestyle state championship in 2016 and placed seventh in the 100-yard backstroke. Claire Workman, Claire McCune and Katie McCune are also set to return fresh off a 1-2-3 finish at the state cross country championships. The Ravens should be contenders in relay events considering the experienced veterans they return.
Glendale also brings back a good roster of state qualifiers that includes Maddie Duncan, Kaitlyn Palmer, Cali Hackworth and more. The girls swimming season in Springfield starts Tuesday, Nov. 29 with the All-Relays meet, heats up Jan. 7 at the Ozarks Invitational, and winds down Feb. 11 at the SWMO Swim and Dive Championships.
Kickapoo’s basketball law firm of leaders
The defending Class 5 girls basketball state champions will not have the power to sneak by anyone, as they enter the season with the No. 1 ranking in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Poll. Three of five starters from the team that beat Kirkwood to win the Class 5 state championship are back.
We’re tentatively calling them “the law firm of leaders”: Jordan, Jordan and Ari. Senior Jordan Sanders put up 15.6 points per game as a junior and signed to play NCAA Division I basketball at University of California-Irvine. Senior Ari Acuff is a three-sport athlete and a competent leader signed to play golf at the U.S. Naval Academy. Junior guard Jordan Wersinger scored 13 points per game as a sophomore and should see her scoring production and college basketball recruiting interest rise as the season progresses.
The Chiefs have some talented returners and a beefed-up schedule that should make for an intriguing, exciting season for their fans and neutral spectators alike.
Bass Pro Tournament of Champions
Three days, eight teams, twelve games, and almost infinite entertainment value blasts off Jan. 12-14 at JQH Arena. Over the past three decades, more than 350 Tournament of Champions alumni went on to play NCAA Division I basketball and more than 50 alumni went on to the NBA.
The 33rd Bass Pro Tournament of Champions will entail capacity crowds, rock bands, a dunk contest, 5-star recruits, and some basketball games. Last year’s tournament ended with Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Virginia) winning the championship 49-48 over Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, California) thanks to a 3-pointer at the final buzzer from Ty-shon Alexander.
Sierra Canyon returns to the Tournament of Champions field in 2017. Other returning teams include 2014 champion Monteverde (Florida), Memphis East (Tennessee), Republic and Kickapoo. Madison Prep (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Greenforest (Decatur, Georgia), and Findley Prep (Las Vegas, Nevada) will make their Tournament of Champions debuts.
Tickets go on sale Tuesday, Dec. 6 at http://missouristatetix.com at 10 a.m.