2017 KHQA Girls All Do-or-Die Team
2017 KHQA GIRLS BASKETBALL AWARDS WINNERS
Greetings and Salutations my friends. And thank you as always for your interest in this little labor of love you see in front of you. I tried to do the math to be sure, but counting the honors teams I put together way back in the day during my short tenure working for the legendary Rod Smith at KRCG-TV in Jeff City, I believe this is my 24th year of “Do or Die Teams” of one form or another. That’s a lot of time spent either in edit bays or in front of keyboards over the years. But it has always felt like a fun way to wrap up the seasons of our lives and this one is no different.
We had a heck of year on the Girls Side in Tri-State High School Basketball here in 2017 with three different teams bringing home State Basketball Trophies. So a special thanks, on behalf of not just me but my entire KHQA Sports Team to the Unity Lady Mustangs, Central Southeastern Lady Panthers, and Scotland County Lady Tigers for extending the fun for as long as humanly possible. It’s always a blessing when the seasons we cover get to play out to the last possible day. More broadly though, our heartfelt appreciation to all of the fans, players and coaches in Tri-State Girls Basketball who have made the fabric of our culture so vibrant and special. I’m that dude who wakes up just about every single morning of the basketball season excited about something that is on my basketball schedule that coming night. In theory, that shouldn’t be an easy mindset to maintain with us being stuck in gyms and on the road for five months of the year. But the quality of play and coaching our area definitely reward the efforts, particularly on the ladies side of the ledger. There were so many fun girls teams to take in this Winter that while it perhaps felt like I was “eating at the same buffet” in my basketball coverage for the entire Winter, the quality and variety of Hardwood Offerings we were seeing in area gyms never made that feel like a stale experience. That is a credit to all of you. So consider this little (or more accurately long-winded) celebration of your accomplishments as my Thank You for making my Professional Life really darned fun. When you look forward to punching in on the time clock at your work, that’s about as good as it gets in this world.
In that spirt, I offer our annual disclaimer:
The awards you see below are nothing but our highly subjective, completely opinionated take on what was an incredibly fun winter's worth of basketball. We are not are experts in any sense of the word. I assure you: our picks here have no impact on recruiting, college scholarships, or future success. This column is provided for nothing more than entertainment purposes and should be enjoyed in that spirit. If you want to have a healthy, constructive, positive debate with us over any pick or omission, I am happy to do so with you as you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can better illustrate our points and why we made them and I am certainly willing to hear you out. But again in the end, what we do here is merely a reflection of our opinion, nothing more. No more meaningful or valid than the basketball opinions of anyone else. And I hope no one takes too much offense or too overheated over the prattle and ramblings here within.
In that spirit, Enjoy True Believers!
Yours in Basketball,
2017 KHQA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Western High School
RATIONALE: The list of worthy candidates here included our reigning POY in Scotland County’s Calesse Bair, Unity’s Jordan Hildebrand on the strength of an elite stretch run, Clopton’s Ashtyn Lagemann and those vaunted Super Sophomore Guards Laney Lantz of Central Southeastern and Annika Kaufmann of West Central. Heck, there were probably passable arguments to be made for as many as eight total contenders here. And yet, the KHQA Sports Team and the voting public reached a pretty easy consensus here. Sometimes it’s just as simple as picking the kid who your eyes tell you is the best/most complete talent on the floor. Blair Borrowman is just a different level of player on the court. Don’t take my word for it. Between the All State nods and the growing buzz Division One/Division Two recruiting recruiting buzz, it’s pretty clear that people who know basketball like what they see in the Western Junior Guard. She is the Tri-State’s most explosive and versatile scorer at 21.1 points per game on 51% shooting from the field. That’s hard to achieve as a high volume/high usage guard, but that also speaks to the quality of Blair’s lethal jump shot and ability with the dribble. She can score from Post to Perimeter and can take over a game on the offensive end at a level no other player can match. Blair gets to the free throw line a ton…and shot a new flawless 86% from the stripe. And for a young girl who grew up idolizing QND’s Jordan Frericks, you can see some of those added metrics really starting to ping radar. Blair averaged 7 rebounds per game. She has the ability to hawk Forwards and Guards of all shapes and sizes as a defender. And this year, we really saw that X-factor of elevating the kids around her kick in at a high level. A twenty-two win size once seemed a pipe dream for this program. Now, the Lady Wildcats are talking openly of a Regional Title next season after the best campaign in school history. Blair is simply a transformational talent; one who both tangibly and intangibly had the widest ranging individual impact on her basketball program this season. That’s a pretty hard argument to beat.
Runner-Up: CALESSE BAIR, Scotland County
Popular Vote: BLAIR BORROWMAN, Western
2016: Calesse Bair, Scotland County
2015: Vanessa Markert, Brown County
2014-Katee Hinkle, Palmyra
2013-Jordan Frericks, Quincy Notre Dame
2012-Jordan Frericks, Quincy Notre Dame
2011-Tiffany King, West Central
2010-Karlee Gengenbacher, Quincy Notre Dame
2009-Tori Niemann, Canton
2008-Marley Hall, West Hancock
2007-McKensey Long, Carthage
2006-Mikal Bencomo, Clopton
2005-Sara Liesen, Quincy Notre Dame
2004-Lexanne Dickerson, Carthage
2003-Jennifer Goetz, Cardinal Stritch
2002-Sam Quigle, Southeastern
2001-Jennifer Goetz, Cardinal Stritch
2000-Dewella Holliday, Monroe City
1999-Dewella Holliday, Monroe City
1998-Ruth Kipping, Quincy High
2016 KHQA GIRLS BASKETBALL COACH OF THE YEAR
CORY SHULTZ, Scotland County
RATIONALE: There were three deserving candidates here (Shultz, Brad Begeman, and Matt Long) and no wrong answer in choosing any of them. Which made it hard for us to really find a reasonable consensus in house. So we took the coward’s way out and went with the guy who (A) won the most games this year (B) garnered the largest percentage of our fan vote and (C) made the most significant historic contribution for his school. Advantage Cory Shultz. The Scotland County skipper helmed his program to its first ever state appearance and put the Tigers on the state level stage for the first time in any sport. The only previous state team hardware of any kind prior to the Lady Tigers newly earned Class 2 Third Place trophy was a State Semifinalist plaque earned by the 1996 Football Squad. Needless to say, this was a pretty large leap forward for Scotland County Athletics as a whole. And it’s hard not to like the architecture of the story here the last few years for Coach Shultz. His team just kept progressively improving itself, building off last year’s Quarterfinals heartbreak to return to MACC and absolutely destroy New Bloomfield in route to its goals. But even before that, Cory found a way to appeal to this team’s sense of purpose and never let it get complacent. See also the team’s only loss: a post-Christmas Break snooze fest against Keokuk which Shultz used to refocus his crew and sharpen its resolve the rest of the way. And they never lost that edge. See also what for my money might have been the highest value win (given the degree of difficulty) for any girls team this season: Scotland’s drubbing of third ranked Clopton on its home floor in the District Title Game. Not many coaches over the years have found a way to pull off that trick against a Larry Lagemann helmed team. You also have to give Coach Shultz high marks here for salvaging what started off as a dispiriting trip to Columbia. After that blowout loss to Skyline in the Semifinals and an ugly first half against Oran that put his team down a dozen, Shultz found the right locker room triggers to let his girls finish out their season in true Lady Tiger form: victoriously and memorably. But his touch has been deft from the start, be it finding the right alchemy finessing his lineup around three lynchpin players or finding ways to make his “role players” buy in and become more than role players in their impact and effect. Young coaches aren’t supposed to be this good this quickly. Cory Shultz, however, is fast proving to be a different level of good.
Runner-Up: BRAD BEGEMAN, Unity
Popular Vote: CORY SHULTZ, Scotland County
2016: Matt Long, Central Southeastern
2015: Tony Johnson, Holy Trinity
2014: Keith Gudehus, Knox County
2013:Eric Orne, Quincy Notre Dame
2012-Eric Orne, Quincy Notre Dame
2011-Eric Orne, Quincy Notre Dame
2010-Mike Johnson, Marion County
2009-Ken Schuster, West Hancock
2008-Eric Orne, Quincy Notre Dame
2007-Bruce Martin, Routt
2006-Zach Keene, Carthage
2005-Jerry Jerome, Keokuk
2004-Jay Baldwin, Holy Trinity
2003-Matt Long, Central
2002-Kent O'Laughlin, South Shelby
2001-Tony Sargent, Cardinal Stritch
2000-Bob Plourde, Monroe City
1999-Randy Spratt, Marion County
1998-Bill Lapp, Carthage
1997-Jerry Jerome, Warsaw
2017 KHQA Breakout Player of the Year (as voted by you our viewers)
LILLY PEPPER, Pittsfield/Pleasant Hill
2016-LANEY LANTZ, Central Southeastern
2015-BLAIR BORROWMAN, Western
2014-ASHTYN LAGEMANN, Clopton
2013-TORIE CONOVER, Central
2017 KHQA GIRLS ALL DO OR DIE TEAM
Starter: ASHTYN LAGEMANN
CLOPTON HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: The body of her work, while adequately quantified in personal stats, is even better exemplified by a singular number: 99. That’s here career win total in four years as a Lady Hawk Starter. To put a finer point on that, Ashtyn had a hand in helping her program to win 85% of the 117 total varsity games she played. This area has only seen win shares production like that during the Jordan Frericks/Kass Gengenbacher era of Quincy Notre Dame’s dynasty days over the last two decades. Point blank, Miss Lagemann is a big time winner, in just about everything she does. (See also her gaudy 3.92 GPA.) I thought her Senior Season, comparatively speaking, was an exercise in necessary restraint. In order to make the team better, Ashtyn unselfishly sacrificed some of her own scoring opportunities to help elevate teammates (particularly the Lady Hawks two rising Sophomore starters) and diversify the Clopton attack as a whole. She still managed 15.6 points per game on 52% efficiency from the field, which is boffo production. But those numbers both paced down from her Junior year stat line. Tellingly, the only stat category that Ashtyn “improved” in during this past winter was Assists, where she produced a career high 56 dimes. That raw metric however, I don’t think adequately speaks to just what a savvy and proficient job Ashtyn did moving the ball deftly out of the post to other pieces. Her numbers were better, for sure, as a passing Big but the optics on that part of her skill set were even far more impressive. More traditionally, Hawks fans were rewarded with much of the same from Ashtyn; which has put her on this merit squad in every season of her career. The traditional post numbers were excellent. She averaged just a smidge under 10 rebounds per contest and blocked 69 shots. She even nabbed 52 steals, as added value from a Pivot. Speaking candidly, I had actually installed Ashtyn is as the KHQA Player of the Year favorite in early January and spent much of the Winter operating under the assumption that she would be the no-brainer pick here. That narrative took hit with the surprising loss to Scotland County in the Districts and the playoff time rise of some of the other great prospects in our area. But I still remain deeply convicted that Ashtyn Lagemann would have been a fine representative to carry on the exemplary tradition that award entails. Just not the dismount we needed to punctuate that story. Still, the last four years of watching this terrific player and extraordinary young women has been an incredible treat and honor. And whatever college ultimately lands this uniquely gifted post player/future Fashion Industry mogul, will have done itself an enormous service into the future.
Reserve: CHELSEA WOOD
SCOTLAND COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: I’m just going to float this out there for your consideration. Scotland County’s most consistent player during the stretch drive of the most successful season in Tiger Sports History was neither the team’s reigning KHQA Player of the Year nor its centerpiece Point Guard. Without Chelsea Wood beasting in the blocks this postseason, I am not sure the Lady Tigers get within sniffing distance of that shiny new State Third Place bauble the school just added to its trophy case. Which kind of got my mind working in some weird ways this postseason. For starters, in an alternative universe where she is less obscured by the players around her, is Miss Wood actually Scotland County’s most essential set piece? The good folks at the Kirksville Daily Express seem to think so. They installed Chelsea as their Girls POY over her more celebrated teammates and made a darned compelling argument in doing so. And while we are exploring the world of “alternative basketball facts” why is it that the appreciation of Miss Wood is so late in coming? Local college coaches have long coveted her in the recruiting process. Sure, she was afforded a bigger stage this season and really had a great personal postseason run, but thinking back, these are not really outliers relative to her entire career body of work. She’s been performing yeoman’s work for three years here. I don’t know what created the Superstar versus Really Nice Supporting Piece narrative in describing Chelsea but I think a lot of us in my business fell on the wrong side of history here. If Chelsea Wood played for another school, with a less glittering set of teammates, she’s a 20/10 girl nightly. To her credit, Miss Wood just fused her game into the greater team concept for the sake of winning and just never really fought to make herself personably visible as a star. It wasn’t important to her, relative to winning. The Blue Collar stuff always seems to lose out in the basketball optics war with the flashier stuff, no matter how well those duties are being performed by the practitioner. Color me guilty of this as well. But it is never too late to admit you were wrong. Chelsea Wood has deserved a grander profile all along. And now I do my part to assure it here. Not just because of her incredible Senior Season (which glitters to the tune of 14 points, 8 rebounds, two and a half steals and nearly a block and a half a game) but because of the entire body of her career work. This is a great, not good player. One who may have minimalized her own skills (she’s good better shooting range than most of us will ever see) because she dedicated herself to a very narrow team directive. Get rebounds. Set picks. Draw defenders away from the dazzling array of perimeter shooters Scotland has with reliable scoring around the basket. And guard your ponytails off. Just call her the Hero Scotland County Deserved, but not the one it knew it every really needed so much. See also her work in the District finals denying the ball to the aforementioned Miss Lagemann. Again, super good kid with great leadership skills, even when she was just goofing off and keep things light in pre-game. I can’t help but think John Wood, where Miss Wood will continue her career, might have landed the biggest bargain in this recruiting class in this relentless worker and talent.
Reserve: MARIAH MARKERT
BROWN COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: Speaking plainly, Mariah is here because she wrecks opposing offenses at a level no one else in our area can match. See also 164 total blocks this season, which works out to roughly five and half swats per contest. And the Hornet Junior is ferocious in hunting opportunities to send your shot right back into your face, the stands, the stratosphere…what have you. It’s not just the moment, it’s the message she sends in doing so. Miss Markert is the ultimate rim protecting weapon in Tri-State Girls Basketball. Her activity level is also underscored by the nearly 300 total rebounds she pulled down this winter, at a rate of nearly 10 per contest. And she breaks on the ball aggressively enough to have procured 61 steals this season. She is nothing short of an elite defensive player who prides herself in excelling on a side of the floor where other kids often just take a powder. Bless her heart, Mariah is our kind of Center because we do love us those rare defensive game changers on this honors team, year after year. Motor and pride matter. That established, Mariah had kind of a weird year on the other end of the floor. Not that she wasn’t productive (13 points per game on 45% shooting is still pretty darned good) especially as a big who gets to the free throw line nearly 150 times in a season. But she did at times feel like she was forcing things, to her own detriment on offense. Obviously, Mariah was the target of every defense she faced and it seemed like that “pressure” took her out of the normal game flow in which she seems destined to excel. She’s got every single tool. I just want to see her relax, unpack the stress off her own shoulders, have fun and let the game come to her next year. She is a very natural, organic player. And when she does that, you get her eye-popping triple/double stat lines. At Max-Q, there just aren’t many basketball talents of her ilk and productivity. And she’s got a rising supporting cast around her that will be far better season than it was last Winter. I really like Brown County as a rising force next Winter and I suspect Miss Markert will be at the center of that push and perhaps a POY candidate if this thing explodes the way it could. She figures to benefit being better armed with weapons around her.
Palmyra High School
THE CASE FOR AUDREY: There were strong voices within our process that advocated Palmyra’s gifted young Sophomore for First Team honors here given her tremendous rise and impact this season. This is a kid who went from looking like a project with nice potential to now appearing to be on the kind of arch that could make her a future Conference Player of the Year contender. The shooting metrics Audrey displayed in averaging 13.5 points per game were sublime and a big reason she has turned us into fans; crafting a 55% efficiency mark in the field and an even more revealing 75% conversion rate at the line. He showed nice rebounding chops (eight per game) and the ability to contest shots. What I didn’t realize in game flow is that she also averaged nearly two steals per game. There’s still some tightening to be done in her game (which I think will become more fluid with seasoning) and I’d like to see her continue to get stronger in the weight room, but the potential is beguiling and fun if she continues to work and improve at this rate.
THE CASE FOR OLIVIA: I saw her early this year, in the Mount Sterling Tournament and came back raving to my staff about just what a nifty all around Center Miss Gibbs had become. Aside from her more pronounced talents working from the block, Olivia did a terrific job that day finishing on the break in transition and showed a lot more perception than we’d seen from her in previous seasons moving the ball, making the extra pass. In short, she looked comfortable for lack of a better phrase. And given her natural intelligence and innate body control, this thing came together for Olivia in a really sublime way. Yeah, I know it gets hidden a bit in a 19 loss season, but she was just kind of fun to watch operate in isolation. Twelve points, eight boards, and a steal, a block and an assist a night were nothing to sneeze at either. We weren’t the only ones who noticed either a Olivia was awarded First All-Conference honors for her efforts and the obvious hard work that crafted them. Exceptional all around young lady to boot.
THE CASE FOR KATIE: She’s nowhere near a finished product yet, but I see so much to like in Routt’s 6’2” Sophomore moving forward. She is well schooled in the game, has the kind of next level natural strength that is going to allow her to bully just about anyone she comes across in the paint at the small school level, and she has flashed really good/certain hands and above average feet in the windows I’ve seen her. She also delivered pretty nice early career metrics, leading her team in scoring this season at nearly 13 points per game on 50% shooting from the field. She has elite rebounding DNA. She averaged nearly eight boards a game this season and to be honest, I think she did that at about 70% of her potential in that phase of the game. Katie is ultimately a 10-12 board a night talented with all that assets she has at her command. Focus/intensity is the key there to improving her consistency because she did have games where she weirdly under-performed on the glass. When the light goes off there and she decides every ball that hits a rim is hers alone, I pity her future opponents because no one is going to stop her. I suspect her shooting from the charity stripe gets better as well because she has nice touch. Again, viewed through the prism of her age and allowing for natural maturity, Katie Abell is already well ahead of the bell curve as a productive, dangerous player. If she hits that next evolution, we are talking about a kid with star quality potential down the road.
ABBY BROWN, Clark County Indians
MOLLY PENN, Quincy Notre Dame
EMILY BOX, Holy Trinity Catholic
AMBER DILSAVER, Fort Madison
RYLIE HARRELL, Illini West
Starter: JORDAN HILDEBRAND,
MENDON UNITY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: What a remarkable final chapter it was for Unity’s force of nature Power Forward. The burden of early career stardom expectations, three years of playoff near misses, and a tumultuous, injury addled Senior season along the way making Jordan Hildebrand’s ascent to the state stage all the more satisfying. The icing on the cake? A virtuoso performance against Grace Baalman/defending State Champion Calhoun in the Semifinals standing as one of the year’s most memorable individual efforts and eventual accord as a very deserving winner of Quincy Herald Whig Player of the Year Award. This was the payoff for so much hard work; ceaselessly honing skill level and paying a career changing debt to the weight room to make herself a star. And while we all still wish the fourth quarter of the Annawan game had ended differently, Miss Hildebrand’s career is diminished not one iota. Second Place in Illinois Class 1A Basketball when most of the rest of the rational world had written you and your team off as legit title contenders is uniquely special validation. As has been remarked here before: Jordan is the Tri-State’s best self-made story. This is a young lady who got herself into great playing shape, transforming her body into one of the Tri-State’s most formidable a low post weapons between her Freshman and Sophomore Seasons. And from there, she just kept adding nuance to her game. Within the Lady Mustang’s team concept attack, Jordan’s final stats were a bit depressed; though averaging eight rebounds and nearly twelve points per night on 56% shooting from the field is hardly scoff-worthy validation. It’s the manner in which she conducted her business, on the ball and off, that stands out here. Unity opponents had to account for her constantly. Not only anchored down in the paint, but in transition as well, where a crafty handle and great explosion off either foot made her one heck of a finisher. She imbued her entire team with a sense of toughness that proved downright intimidating to those who had to defend her. It may seem a silly notion in theory, but there is in fact a sense of purpose and a message delivered in the simplest of Miss Hildebrand’s court m.o.’s: ripping a loose rebound out of the air with the kind of ferocity that sends a unmistakable sizzle through a noisy gym. That commands attention. And Jordan did that about as well as anyone. Her palate of skills for post player are enviable, the kind of blank canvas stuff inside and out that expands the definition of her position. A kind of Miles Bridges-type intrigue if you will, obviously relative to the rest of Tri-State High School Girls Basketball talent pool. And given what she has done the last four years, I don’t think it’s unfair to talk about Miss Jordan’s place somewhere in the gamut of great local power forwards of the past from our area. She may not have Jessica Stuckman or Jennifer Goetz high school resume, but she’s comfortably a stone’s throw away in that next tier of relative greatness. And that’s pretty lofty stuff. I also tend to think Jordan might be the most instantly translatable college player in the Class of 2017. That jump to a more physical brand of ball at the next level will be a natural for Miss Hildebrand. And whoever lands her is getting a high caliber kid of impeccable intangibles (work ethic, toughness, floor savvy) who will fight hard to maximize everything she has to the cause of being great. That’s the legacy she crafted in Mendon and it’s a considerable one for those who follow to emulate.
Reserve: JADA SUMMERS,
MONROE CITY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: Building off a stellar Freshman Year resume, Jada Summers continued her stellar trajectory with a Sophomore campaign that netted her unanimous First Team All Clarence Cannon Conference First Team Accord. The numbers certainly support that assertion. Miss Jada averaged a double/double during her Sophomore campaign with team highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds per game while leading her squad to a very impressive 23-4 mark. That’s all well and good, but if you haven’t watched Jada play, there’s a whole incredible piece of the puzzle you are missing out on here. She’s just 5’5” for crying out loud. Which means she’s post up girls sometimes six to eight inches taller than she is and still getting her shot to fall at 50% efficiency. Ostensibly, you would think no player in Tri-State girls basketball would stand a better chance of getting her shot swatted back in her face, given the way she plays. But Jada is two very important things that have leveled the playing field in her favor: incredibly strong and weirdly unorthodox with her shot trajectory. And because of this she is just incredibly fun to watch operate. She possesses very refined ball skills for a forward, seems to slither her way to loose rebounds as if she was coated in Teflon, and has a deceptively quick second jump that allows her to get to offensive rebounds (and release them) before her defenders have a chance to react. Someone asked me if this would translate for Jada in college and my first instinct was to blurt out the default “too short” response; but then a I caught myself and started to frame it thusly: she plays this way naturally. There’s just a very organic feel to watch she does and how she does it; kind of like the way that Fat Lever in the NBA used to get to rebounds that no other guards had no business getting to in a world of seven footers. In much the same way, Jada creates her shot with surprising ease against bigger players and seems to just know what it takes to beat them on a given night; be it getting into their bodies and drawing contact or using her feet to create a window. She’s kind of become a favorite around here to watch just because Jada is becoming the best kind of basketball anomaly. There’s no substitute for (and no reason to explain away) such relentless, impressive basketball production. The Young Lady is a helluva player, regardless of what the “listed height” stuff says on her resume. And she can command shots on my squad any day of the week.
Reserve: DANI STARKS,
WEST CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: One of my favorite storylines of this season. Dani Starks finally got to turn the page on the injury issues that had snake-bitten her in her early career and show Western Illinois her fully capabilities. You can put that impact into proper perspective in a number of different ways. With Miss Starks providing needed interior presence on a guard oriented team, the Lady Cougars rose as high as second in the state this season under her watch, ultimately finishing the year 27-3 before bowing out in the Sectional of Death at Calhoun. Metrically, Dani led her team in scoring (13.2 ppg) and affected field goal percentage (57%) to deliver the goods on legitimate paint presence for a team that otherwise loved to live and die by the three point shot. Naturally, Dani was the Cougars top rebounder at 6.6 boards per game. And she actually led this guard oriented crew in steals, with 115 on the year, or roughly four per game. That’s the story by the numbers. To see it play out in actuality was even more telling. Dani’s athleticism, not only running the floor, but contorting her body around and through bigger defenders to get her shot off was something to see. I would argue Miss Starks possessed some of the quickest, if not the quickest, front court reflexes of any player I saw this season. She made ridiculously tough plays through contact, be it gathering a steal on the fly in a sea of hands or somehow sliding through the lane to snag a rebound away from everyone else. She also seemed to process plays mentally, incredibly quickly and effortlessly. You can call it a superb sense of instinctual timing, but I think it goes beyond just that. Dani seems to see the game faster than anyone else and that allowed her to play it faster than her opponents. I think it also bears noting she possessed a pretty darned good handle for a post player and employed that as well to make a killing for her team in fast break points. To put an even more telling point on this, Dani Starks was the only post player all season long to win a game against a full strength Central-Southeastern club; which translated into her delivering a game tilting 17 points and 7 rebounds heads up against Kolby McClelland. I am not sure anyone else who played against the CSE star came remotely close to posting that kind of stat line this Fall at her expense. Bottom line, Dani Starks was good. Far better than just a fourth team All State nod from the IBCA suggested.
Sixth Man/Wild Card Reserve: KOLBY MCCLELLAND
THE SKINNY: Passing over a very deserving Kolby McClelland for KHQA Player of the Year honors after her stellar Junior year was not an easy decision for this Sports Department. But we took some solace at the time that Kolby was the odds-on preseason favorite to carry that banner at the end of this winter; figuring her team would likely improve on last year’s watershed Third Place state finish while also seeing Matt Long coax even more basketball goodness from his inexplicably gifted Center. The Tri-States has produced some incredible Centers in the 22 years since I have been working at KHQA. I could start with Ruth Kipping and Lori Crisman and just keep spouting off names for an hour here. I’d put Kolby’s agility and nimble feet against any kid on that considerable list of All Staters and Future Division One talents. And that’s saying a lot. I can’t remember seeing a pivot run the floor as effortlessly as Miss McClelland. Obviously, there were other skills in play here too; ones that seemed a little too unfair to be gifted to a future Division One Volleyball prospect killing time in her “off-season.” Charmin soft touch around the basket. Great wingspan. The ability to get off the floor and contest. And maybe most importantly/esoterically five star character and leadership, the latter of which were beneficial to her team even after “The Disaster.” Yep, that knee injury suffered in the Semifinals of the Lady Panther Classic was easily the most impactful (and honestly worst) happening of this basketball season and the most unfair moment I can remember covering High School Sports since the Joe Fessler catastrophe at Liberty. To put Kolbe’s impact in the proper prospect, I think it’s fair to say that her absence changed the entire landscape of the Girls Class 2A Title Chase. I am not suggesting that Byron’s status as State Champion for the second straight year is negated if the Lady Panthers are fully healthy. See also last season. But I do think it levels the discussion, especially to those of us who saw this group fight its way through the loaded field in Normal to win a State Farm Classic Title. I think Matt Long had his team primed and ready for that challenge and a shot of atonement. But unfortunately that’s a mystery to which we will never get a concrete answer. Kolbe Strong is diminished in no way here, either way. When she couldn’t play, she served as sideline inspiration here. Truly one of the best athletes (and more importantly people) it has been my distinct honor to cover in this career. Here’s to full health and a lot of fun on the volleyball court at Murray State the next four or five years.
Paris High School
THE CASE FOR DREW: Leading rebounder and distributor (there’s a combination we don’t get to often tout) as a “Point Center” on a 20 win Lady Coyote squad. In a more ideal world, Paris would be able to bounce her to a more natural fit at the four spot where here 5’9” frame would be a more apt fit. In her Junior season, Drew averaged ten points, seven and a half rebounds, and nearly three assists per contest. She’s a clever, unselfish player who understands uniquely when to score and when to play conduit to make her teammates better. She endeared herself even further to us this year by showing a flair and dedication to making the extra pass, both from the high and low post. Drew also had a hand in 60 deflections. She doesn’t get near enough credit for her touch around the basket and her footwork. An underappreciated gem of a player who deserves far greater visibility than she has received to this point.
Payson Seymour High School
THE CASE FOR RILEY: Sure, she’s more highly regarded in Softball and Volleyball but the Lady Indian Tenth Grader has a nifty ceiling as an active, lithe, rim protector moving into the future. Miss Epperson’s long frame (6’1”) and Outside Hitter bounce netted eight rebounds, two and half steals and nearly five blocks per game this season. There’s not a coach in our region who wouldn’t covet that kind of tangible production inside. The intrigue here is that Riley is just scratching the surface of her talents while putting up enviable production in those two metrics. Her offense is still fleshing out, but she did shoot 45% from the field and averaged just a smidge under 10 points per game in doing so. She can pass the ball over the top well too. With even a modicum of improvement in the consistency department, we are talking about a young lady here with potential star quality. She’s a sneaky good futures buy here.
Holy Trinity High School
THE CASE FOR ALI: She has been a highlight machine for us over the years on both the soccer pitch and, of course, the volleyball court. Credit Miss Ali for cobbling together a really fine senior year basketball resume to add to her already staggering list of high school accomplishments. The Lady Crusaders were, speaking plainly, not a particularly dynamic offensive team. To her credit, Ali helped shoulder the load in grinding out 12 points nightly at 43% efficiency from the field. To put a finer point on what that meant, HTC as a collective entity shot just 36% from the field this season. That meant Ali was getting a ton of defensive attention and still finding a way to get it done. She also averaged nearly seven and a half rebounds per game and led her team with 50 steals. Just one more chapter of excellence from a young lady who has done such an amazing job exemplifying the value of work ethic and character in all avenues of her very successful academic/athletic career.
KATELYNN CHARLTON, Bowling Green
KAELEE OGLE, Mark Twain
MAKENNA HALL, Central Lee
JORDYN HARE, Macomb
ALYSSA WESSEL, Keokuk
Starter: CALESSE BAIR
SCOTLAND COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: Saddens me to contemplate a world next year where there are no “Khaleesi” highlights to call and no more Game of Thrones references to be dropped on Friday Nights. “Our Moon and Stars” is moving on to Graceland University to continue her promising career; ending her high school reign as one of the most versatile/dynamic Wing Talents to grace our area in the last two decades. She does so now having helped to author the finest athletic campaign of any kind in her school’s history; the mic-drop on a personal resume that also includes a bag full of All State/All District/All Everything honors that includes Junior Year accord as the KHQA Player of the Year. She nearly snagged a second of those this season and certainly no one would blame you if you wanted to argue for the merits of her deserving a repeat nod. Heck, we were ready to do exactly that after her OMG performance in that seminal District Championship win over Clopton. The Lady Tigers took down one of the most pedigreed small school programs in Missouri (count those Final Four banners) on its home floor and did so with relative ease as Calesse worked her step-back magic to the tune of 25 points against a team with really good perimeter defenders. Miss Bair strengthened her argument a week later at MACC in the Quarterfinals, with her relentless “one woman fast break” act to punch the Lady Tigers first ever trip to State. At that very point in time, I thought she was a POY lock, in a really top loaded, incredibly tight race no less. The Skyline Game, speaking honestly, seemed to bizarrely sap that momentum. Look, all of us have “bad days at the office” in whatever it is we do in this world. That’s no sin. And let’s not act like Skyline wasn’t both lying in wait for Calesse or blessed with some of the best press defenders I’ve ever seen from a team that wasn’t the Jordan Frericks-era QND Lady Raiders. But within the framework of this “Player of the Year” argument the optics of this incredible offensive player being so wholly negated (she didn’t attempt a shot for three quarters and change) against the optics of some of the other POY candidates “Final Acts” didn’t play well. That is, unfortunately, how thin the line was here between Repeat and Second Place. In full disclosure, I have never more wanted to say something to player in-game than I did that night because it felt like the words “Hey…you’re Calesse Bair darn it. Go be her…NOW” might have changed everything. In the wake of that however, you have to go back and give this young lady incredible credit. After playing easily the six most forgettable quarters of her Senior Season on that State Stage, Calesse flipped the switch in the Second Half of the Oran game, changed the narrative, and salvaged the whole darned affair as the impetus of the comeback than netted Scotland County a third place trophy. That takes some real fortitude. And she even punctuated it with one of her signature moments; a scoop shot in transition that made every highlight reel. It was the ideal bounce-back to a less than ideal weekend. And that’s just one of the things you like about this kid moving forward. She’s got great fortitude and faith to go along with all of those headliner skills. And really in the basketball tableau, there is nothing she can’t do. The metrics all bear this out for a third straight season. Her nightly stat line looked KD-esque. Eighteen points, five boards, four steals. She’s got a prototype frame to play the wing at the next level. She has one of the prettiest jump shot releases you will ever see with outstanding range and an unmatched ability to buy separation for herself to get that shot off. And she is almost impossible to get in front of when she goes into fast break mode. The total package with the work ethic and elite character to match. Great player and an all-time favorite kid to cover. History should remember her very, very favorably against the legacies of other area greats in this era. And will if I have anything to say about it for a long time to come.
Reserve: TRESSA CAMPBELL
CLARK COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: One of three unanimous First Team All Clarence Conference Selections this winter and the centerpiece of the Lady Indians Conference and District Title splurges. I’d make the contention that Tressa Campbell’s versatility and basketball IQ make her the most malleable set piece in our region. Plug her into any roster in the Tri-States and she’d just organically fill in the soft spots in the rotation, whatever they may be. We are talking about a player who could conceivably play all three frontcourt spots on the floor at a very high level to help your team. Part of that stems from her ability to play bigger than her 5’9” frame. Tressa is a terrific anticipatory rebounder. What she lacks in ideal interior size she makes up for in instinct reading the ball off the rim, quickness to 50/50 balls, and old school grit. She averaged better than eight rebounds per contest this season and used some of those same attributes to disrupt the passing lanes as well (2.2 steals per game) While there is no official metric to measure such things, I would theorize that Tressa might have also made more “smart plays” than anyone in Northeast Missouri. Every time I would see her in person, she would do something that would reveal just how deeply and naturally she thinks the game, be it something as simple as establishing position on a bigger opponent and using her body to draw obvious contact or making that extra pass to get her team a higher percentage shot. The other draw for us here is that Tressa is such a low usage player, yet still managed to average 12 points per game with a 48% conversion rate to boot. Her scoring opportunities never really felt forced. She’s got a nice mid-range game that she could have more selfishly showcased but I never once saw her take those shots outside organic game flow. Maybe that’s the engrained mindset of growing up a coach’s daughter. By the same token, I’ve seen my fair share of kids with similar upbringing chuck bad shots. Tressa never did. Her interior scoring was a simple joy to behold. Great feet. Good shot mechanics. An almost unfair ability to create space for herself against those who tried to defend her. More that than, her savvy and intelligence seems contagious with teammates. John Wood has gotten an absolute steal here. Not sure what position Tressa plays at the next level or that the role definition even matters in her case. When you hear new age basketball folks talk about the value of “position-less” basketball, it’s players like Tressa Campbell who wholly embody that ethic. Her resume at Clark County spoke volumes. And she’s only going to become more valuable from here thanks to the sophistication of her game, both mental and in on-court application.
Reserve: BRIANNA HILDEBRAND
THE SKINNY: It’s typical a disparaging description to call someone “willful” but in describing Brianna Hildebrand as a basketball player, I mean it in the best possible spirit of the word. This young lady might possesses as much fortitude and winning determination as anyone on this honors team, male or female. And the sheer fight in her might have been the single greatest attribute this Central Southeastern team possessed in making its run back to Redbird Arena. Miss Hildebrand certainly wasn’t blessed with prototype size. She seemed to be on the short end of every matchup she drew. And unlike softball, where Brianna’s compact, explosive swing is an outlier, I am not sure this young lady had one A+ natural basketball skill on which to hang her hat. The upshot however is that Brianna could and would do a little bit over everything well. And more importantly: do it intensely. She could fill in whatever crevice the offense needed on a given night, organically and within the game flow. See also that Bri was a near 40% from three point range, converted 70% of her trips to the line, and had an uncanny ability to find her way to the basket through bigger, more menacing traffic without fear. She averaged 11 points per game, catering perfectly to a pair of All Staters around her. When the Panthers were at Max-Q, you could argue Miss Hildebrand was the best fit “third option” on any team in Western Illinois. More tellingly, when she had to play both second (and for a short time even first) option on her team, she wore those mantles with seamless confidence as well. Those are all great arguments, mind you, for her inclusion here. But those scoring metrics don’t take into account just how hard she guarded anyone that Matt Long threw at her. She might not have won every one of those battles, often against bigger or faster kids. But she sure made them earn everything. She also proved a sneaky good “inch for inch” rebounder at nearly five per contest. Again, these are numbers on paper that don’t really tell the full story. That Brianna was accorded IBCA Fourth Team All State honors was probably a better recognition of her approach and her almost unparralleld reliability. And in that sense, maybe the best compliment I can give Miss Hildebrand is that she might be the most ideal Matt Long player I can ever remember. Not the best talent or scorer or this and that mind you. But the kid who came closest in my memory to approaching the incredibly high bar of personal accountability Coach Long sets for his kids. Brianna was nothing short of a warrior who demanded greatness of herself every single second she was on the floor. How do you not love a kid with that kind of investment to a cause? The game of basketball would be immeasurable improved if there were a lot more Brianna Hildebrand types within it.
THE CASE FOR ASJIA: The John Wood signee was a very good all-around high school player whose best basketball days I think are still very much ahead of her. Asjia is a competent scorer (12.5 ppg on 52% FG efficiency) who just never seemed wholly comfortable in her high school career trying to morph into THE lead role on offense. Her game is more esoteric and role oriented, and that’s a good thing; though I do think Norm Rodriguez will ultimately try to coax a bit more of the “3 and Dee” type stuff out of her. The long range shooting remains to be seen, because she deferred to her Monroe teammates from distance. She does have nice midrange touch and most JWCC/Monroe folks think that will come. Her defense and rebounding is why she is here. Asjia is a nimble and elastic player who displayed her mobility in averaging five boards and two steals per game. I think she has some of the best lock-down defender DNA in this Senior Class because she is such a fluid athlete and such a high caliber teammate who seems to embrace challenge and role. All Conference Second Team honors last year were well deserved. Anxious to see how far forward she spins her prospect in a college scenario that seems tailor made for her to thrive.
Keokuk High School
THE CASE FOR MAKENZIE: Granted, her enviable shooting touch weirdly betrayed her this season, both at the free throw line and especially from long range. My argument however is that Miss Pezley’s Swiss Army Knife versatility is such that she might be the only player on this list who can shoot 26% from three point land and still be ranked/regarded a top 20 talent in Tri-State Girls Basketball. Makenzie just found other ways to contribute and pick up the slack. She gritted her way to a ten points per game average while passing out nearly three assists per game. She also grabbed 77 rebounds, played intense defense, and led her vertically challenged team in blocked shots.
Paris High School
THE CASE FOR ALLISON: One more name to add now to the gifted basketball Class of 2019. Coyotes Sophomore sniper proved her worth by leading her team in scoring a 15 points per game while knocking down 41 triples. While Miss Allison’s perimeter skills are evident to anyone who has watched her hoist shots, I really like the potential in her all-around game to blossom. She’s 5’7” but has the wing span of a much taller girl and she uses that length to good effect. Moore had 53 total steals and 55 deflections this past season, which is just the kind of defensive activity we like. She’s already shown flashes of promise as a rebounder (5.6 per game as a 10th Grader) and good floor vision. Athletic kid who has a really high ceiling moving forward.
BRIANNA GROTTS, Illini West
MIAYLA ROBBINS, Quincy High
KEELIE O’BRIEN, Clark County
IZZY COX, West Central
ADDI MILLER, Unity
Starter: LANEY LANTZ
THE SKINNY: Before you get too deep into reading these: your Duerr Disclaimer for 2017. In twenty two years of doing these “honors teams” for KHQA, this is the deepest group of guards we have ever surveyed. In that spirit, you and I may wildly disagree on the order of ranking here (who is the starter/who is a reserve/why is so and so a First Teamer and someone else only a Second Teamer?) That established, what we can probably all agree on is that the amount of separation distinguishing these picks is paper thin. ALL of these guards are terrific. In any other year, if we had half this many good candidates to fill out this roster, I’d be thrilled. Here, the level of Guard Greatness in general is almost a burden. Almost…
All that established, let’s dig into the legacy of Laney Lantz, which has produced two Final Four appearances in her two years as starter. The second of those campaigns came with Laney at maybe 70% of her normal lateral mobility (tough customer to bounce back from that injury so quickly, no?) to open the playoffs and absent her All State Post Player. This is not counting here two previous stints at Southeastern Junior High leading her teams to Final Fours at the IESA level. This is not coincidence. This is the mark of team powered by winners. And no one in the last four years has won as many basketball games, whatever the level, as Laney Lantz. There’s a power of pure belief in this Central/Southeastern team that I have not seen in a Tri-State Basketball team since the 1997 Warsaw Boys Basketball team. See also these girls performances after their superstar Center got hurt. And there is a “clutch-ness” to this team’s Sophomore Off Guard that seems to be the greatest embodiment of this ethic of all that all games, regardless of circumstance, are ultimately winnable. She’s just two years into her high school career and I am already convinced that Laney Lantz is the greatest clutch free throw shooter I have ever seen, Male or Female, in my twenty two years now covering Tri-State High School sports. Excellence under pressure is revealing. And it seems like the more pressure there is involved in end of game scenarios, the calmer Laney becomes at the line. She’s nothing shy of automatic there. I can’t think of a kid I’d better want at the line in that situation than Miss Lantz. I could quote you Laney’s stat line (which is very good by the way at 14 points and nearly three rebounds per game) but it does little to quantify for those who haven’t seen her play just how valuable she is to this team. They are just numbers. They don’t show you here anticipation on critical steals or the smart extra pass she makes. Or how much she loves to play this game, more than anything. To wit, her three point conversion rate dipped this season to 32%. Some of that obviously born of the injury and ring rust coming back. Some of that also rightly can be attributed to opponents getting more aggressive chasing after her above the arc, especially after Kolby McClelland got hurt. The thing about Laney is, she’s likely out in a gym in March already working on how to better counteract that for next year and better hone the efficiency of her game and exploit the attention she gets to the betterment of her team. On paper, CSE won’t be as talented a team next year as it was this season. Yet you don’t hear anyone in the basketball know in Illinois dismissing the notion of a Lady Panther return to prominence, do you? That, for lack of a better description, is the Laney Factor. And she still has two years of evolution in her game. She’s got a handle that rivals just about every point guard on this list. Next year, I think you will see Laney with the ball in her hands more often, which may be an even more scary proposition for those who draw the assignment of having to check her. Especially since Matt Long is going to need her to score more often these next two seasons. And all she does is it take it all in stride. Just a wonderful ballplayer, in every aspect of the game. So if you love the game, do yourself a favor and go out and see her live sometime in the next two years, so you can fully appreciate the subtlety of her game. You’ll be thankful you did.
RESERVE: NICOLE KROEGER
PALMYRA HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: Palmyra’s loss is Northern Iowa University’s gain. Four years of Nicole Kroeger goodness in the backcourt is going to be incredibly difficult for Chris Parson’s to replicate moving the Lady Panthers forward. Your three-time Clarence Cannon Conference Player of the Year penned the final chapter of an awesome high school career with another absurdly stuffed per-game stat line of nearly 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and two blocks nightly. In essence, Nicole was the Giannis Antetokounmpo of NEMO girls basketball the last four years. Her reach, offensively and defensively was enormous. Maybe too much so this season. Miss Kroeger was asked to do a lot (and pushed herself to do a lot, as well) and somewhere along the way, her shooting metrics this season took a hit. I’d file this circumstance under the “Errors of Enthusiasm” category. This is a young lady who is an extraordinarily high achiever in all she does and one who I think was deeply driven to break that “Final Four Glass Ceiling” that eluded her during her entire high school career. So after years of being told she was way too unselfish (believe I am quoting myself here) Nicole pushed the envelope. Point blank, she forced some shots and ended up with just a 36% Field Goal conversion rate this Winter; far and away the lowest of her stellar career. That, my friends, is what we call an historical anomaly. This is a young Lady who shot 47% from the field as a Sophomore and 51% as Junior. Nicole is a wonderful shooter with really good mechanics. What we saw this season is that she’s just better served as player, getting to play in her comfort zone. Which is exactly what is going to happen for her when she is surrounded by more elite talent at UNI. Nicole gets to go back to being a more organic version of herself, which the last three years has shown us is one of the historically best pass-first distributors we’ve seen. Letting her come down the floor and find designated wing shooters to kick to…or letting Nicole play off the ball and use her outstanding movement and spot up skills, in either eventuality is going to be a gigantic boon for her new employer next season. And in that statement there, you embody much of the greatness that has been the Nicole Kroeger Era. She’s got perhaps the most extensive tool box of guard skills in this Senior Class; or in the last few Senior classes we’ve seen for that matter that are the reason she garnered Division One attention. Super smart kid. Rock solid handle. Incredible lateral movement. Feet that would have better served a ballet dancer at Julliard. And yes, those one piece shooting mechanics that netted her 48% conversion rates from the field and a 36% efficiency from three in the first three years of her high school career. This is one talented, classy young woman. Anxious to see her thrive up in Cedar Falls, both athletically and academically as well.
Reserve: BAYLEE CLAMPITT
ILLINI WEST HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: In a less cluttered year, you could concoct a heck of a POY argument for Illini West’s uber-versatile Junior Guard. Baylee wore the mantle of offensive lynchpin incredibly well, tallying 16 points per game for the Chargers while shooting 44% from the field on two point attempts, 36% from three point range, and cleaning up at the charity stripe at 80% efficiency. The net result of her efforts: 551 total points (330 more than her next nearest teammate) and an eye-popping 72 triples. All of this, mind you, with so much of the opponents game plan locked directly on her. Still, Miss Clampitt has an incredible knack for isolation scoring opportunities. Or more precisely, hunting those chances down. She’s got a handle that rivals nearly every point guard on this list and uncommon ability to burrow into the crevices of a defense and just pick and pop her way to opportunities from there. That established, Baylee carried the added benefit of being sort of the anti-Carmelo Anthony; a high volume scorer who actually recognized the value of her teammates and who didn’t devolve into an offensive black hole when the ball hit her hands. To the contrary, Miss Clampitt worked very hard to find the open player and was not only a willing passer, but an adroit one. She finished the year with 110 assists, or roughly 3.2 dimes per game. This may be what I love most about Baylee here: the minute the ball hit her hands, her head was up. Her eyes were open and she was constantly probing the court to exploit a matchup or a teammate who had broken free of coverage. She could carve you up with the instant floor length pass to jump start transition off a rebound or break things down in the half court and draw and dish. She was basically the equivalent of having a second floor general on the floor. In NBA parlance, kind of Illini West’s answer to CJ McCollum as a combo threat. She was also one of the best rebounding guards in the region (five per game) and showed great reactiveness on defense, both in generating steals but also in just simply harassing the opponent in front of her with intelligent pressure. In short, she’s a gem. The Illini West/Carthage bloodlines have produced a host of incredible, heck Hall of Fame worthy guards over the years. If Baylee keeps up on this trajectory into her Senior Year, her name is going to very much be home on a very storied list of program alums. And that’s a very high compliment to her career thus far indeed.
MARK TWAIN HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: She is a point guard (in application anyway) for Mark Twain and most certainly a lead guard, given her lack of height, at the next level. Still, we prize McKenzie here more highly for her blitzkrieg scoring prowess and it’s easier to move her into First Team honors away from the talent logjam we are fighting at the one spot. For starters, I am not sure there is a more “fun to watch” talent in Tri-State Girls basketball. Sure the Lady Tigers finished sub-500 on the season, but that did little to diminish our zeal for getting to cover Miss Lathrom, who could always be counted on to put on an inside/outside scoring show in route to her nightly 19.7 points per game. She’s a high volume/high usage player (432 attempts) but I think it says a great deal that McKenzie at just 5’4” (generously) is a near 42% shooter from the field for her career and finished her Junior year converting 43% of her total shots and 52% of her 2 point attempts. Miss Lathrom has effortless three point ability. Her shot is a little “wristy” but she gets great spin and touch from distance off of it and finished at 35% this Winter from beyond the arc. Moreover, McKenzie does an exception job shedding defenders (her first step is more explosive than a sneeze) and got to the charity 100 times this season, converting 72% of her free throws. I absolute love her handle and her vision, which has netted some 312 assists in the last three seasons. McKenzie’s passing ability is a bit undersold because she plays at a faster speed (physically and mentally) than some of her teammates and that tends to lead to turnovers that aren’t often the fault of the distributor. Don’t let that discourage you as to her ability to run a team. I think she will be well served when she gets to the college level whipping bounce passes and no look dimes to more advanced players. For lack of a better comparo, McKenzie Lathrom is kind of Tri-State Girls basketball’s answer to the Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas. With the notable exception that Lathrom actually defends at a pretty high level too. How do you not love a kid who jumps passes to the tune of three steals per night. Or moreover as a testament to Lathrom’s savvy and moxie: grabs five rebounds per game despite a lack of ideal stature in the paint. Quickness and savvy serve her well here in every phase of the game. Again, admittedly, this kid is a favorite of ours and I suspect her Senior Year pushes the margins even further. And if she can somehow help turn the Lady Tigers into a better than 500 team as a Senior, that would be one more (if not the most impressive) blurb on an already stellar career resume in Center, Missouri.
Winchester West Central
THE CASE FOR SYD: With a 130 triples to her credit the last two years, Sydney Rock loomed as one of the premier perimeter threats in Tri-State Girls Basketball. She had a team high 50 three pointers this Winter even as Brian Bettis worked diligently to spread the outside wealth on this team. But the Lady Cougars Super Sniper was so much more than long ranger artillery for her powerhouse program. The Senior Guard produced 11 points, 3 assists and nearly two and half steals per game in route to Third Team All State plaudits from the IBCA. Frenetic, reactive defender who fit perfectly into the fabric of West Central’s unique attack and helped lead the Lady Cougars to the top of the IHSA Class 1A rankings all season long.
Central Lee High School
THE CASE FOR ANNA: Central Lee’s fast rising Junior finished as her team’s Second Leading Scorer at a dozen points per game at nearly 45% shooting from the field, which is very efficient for a guard. She also chipped in with 21 three pointers, helping diversify the attack for a somewhat vertically challenged club. Anna further posted team highs in Assists (77) and steals (72) averaging better than two swipes per game in the latter category. One a team of dynamic players, Anna tends to get a little undersold but if she can lean up her issues with turnovers, she could be one of the best combo Guards in the Class of 2018
Moving forward. Don’t sleep on her or on Central Lee next Winter.
Payson Seymour High School
THE CASE FOR HALEY: Dynamic Junior combo guard produced a team high 16 points and 4 assists per game in leading the rising Lady Indians to eleven wins this Winter. Haley had eight games in which she scored more than 20 points this season and had 49 total triples on the season. She can score going to the rim or sniping from the perimeter, just needs to tighten up her efficiency in both areas after shooting just 37% from the field there. But the raw tools are definitely there. Active rebounder at 5’7” with great quickness and read/react ability to the basketball. Her per 32 minute averages are really enticing, including metrics that show just how good she is at jumping the passing lanes for steals (3.1 per game per 32) She is a young lady who gets better and better, portending even greater personal and team progress in Payson next Winter.
Central Lee High School
THE CASE FOR MCKENZIE: Two from the same team? Who are we kidding. Central Lee’s line up was essentially a Point Guard, three two guards, and post. But if it ain’t broke…Our long standing admiration for three point proficiency is well served here. Central Lee’s Senior Sharp Shooter and “3 Ball-corner pocket” specialist delivered a whopping 61 triples this season (almost half of her team’s 129 triple total for the year) and did so at spectacular 40% conversion rate in helping the Lady Hawks to a stellar 19-4 record. McKenzie averaged eleven and a half points per game, chipping in with 74 rebounds and 34 steals.
EMILY BRUNE, Clopton
DEVIN BATTEFELD, Griggsville-Perry
MADI HAYS, Monroe City
KENZIE KENDRICK, South Shelby
KATIE CONRY, Unity
Starter: ANNIKA KAUFMAN
WINCHESTER WEST CENTRAL
THE SKINNY: Good players are adaptable players. With the emergence of Dani Starks as a legit (and needed) post presence in the West Central Cougar equation, Miss Kaufmann dialed back her own shot opportunities (see also 130 fewer attempts in 2017 versus her Freshman season) and morphed comfortably into more of a “catering manager” if you will for the Lady Cougars. Her primary foci this season were valuing the basketball, getting her team into its half-court offense, and then picking apart a defense systematically and deliberately; whether by her own hand or setting the tempo of brisk movement for her teammates. So this means she put up jaw dropping assist stats, right? Not so much. Anni’s influence was more esoteric. She didn’t have to put up huge numbers because the team around her was so much better than it was a year ago. There were, in essence, more hands picking up the numeric slack. The number then than best amplified Miss Kaufmann’s value then was 27; as in the number of wins in 30 contests her team produced. That’s not to demean her stats, which were really quite good when considered against the Cougars pace of play and the spike in overall team production from across this roster. She still was good for nearly 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals per game. Her shooting percentages took slight hits as well and she only connected on 17 triples this season, but again, I think this was role specific phenomenon as I didn’t see any attrition in her game. She’s still a terrific finisher; arguably the best kid going to the rim of any guard in Tri-State Girls Basketball. Her shot mechanics are still very sound. She still maintains exceptional floor vision. The only valid criticism I think you could level against her in her Sophomore Season is that she maybe sublimated her scoring aggression a smidge too much and at times felt a little passive relative to her Ninth Grade self when it came to attacking. The great thing about Annika though is she is wholly unflappable and will assuredly ramp right back into attack mode in her Junior Season, when Brian Bettis will need her to provide more in the scoring column. She is just a rare blank canvas player who can fill any role for you. And I, for one, am excited to see her reinvent herself a second time next season next winter and perhaps rekindle the ethos that made her the most unstoppable scorer I’ve ever seen in Junior High Girls Basketball. But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s appreciate the restraint and subtlety that marked her “underrated” Sophomore campaign. The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association certainly did in installing Annika as a 2nd Team All State pick. Bottom line, this young lady is a flat out winner.
Reserve: ABI FENNEY
SCOTLAND COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: The Throwback on this list. Abi Feeney is cut from that old-school, pass first/team first mentality that insists a Point Guard’s value isn’t measured by the numbers she produces but by the wins her team amasses. Under Abi’s command, Scotland County won an area best 93% of its games this season. You need anything else here or are we good here? I suppose if you were so motivated, you could try and couch this argument with the old “well look who she got to play with” defense but if you talk to Calesse Bair and Chelsea Wood, heck any of her Tiger Teammates; they will attest that Miss Fenney elevated their individual games with her unselfish play and directed passing. Again, I don’t know how you tangibly measure chemistry in basketball beyond win/loss totals but Scotland County’s body of work again speaks volumes there. More subjectively, watch these girls play and you see the comfort level in their sets. Abi delivered the ball where it needed to be delivered and when it be delivered. Her floor feel and vision obviously belie this as does her “spider sense” of seeming to know exactly when sniper specialist Maddie Brassfield is ready to go JJ Redick on a Tiger foe. Miss Fenney doled out 150 dimes this season, an average of right at five per night. Miss Fenney is very good at breaking a press and weaving through traffic. The State Tournament stage, against elite pressure, was a weird outlier to that but I’d argue there are good boys point guards in our region whose handle would have looked far more mortal if forced to dribble through the Skyline Schylla/Charybdis Defense as well. Generally speaking, I think Abi has a wonderful leanness to her control of a basketball game. She is incredibly heady running the offense and minimizes risk, which is easy to adore in a floor leader. Why not just make the low risk pass if you can, which is why Abi is among the surest Assist/Turnover table setters (boys or girls hoops) in our little corner of the world. Smart matters and she’s got that in spades; one of the highest basketball IQ kids you’ll find. She plays well both above the circles and attacks the interior with flourish to break down things looking for the kick out to when the defense takes the bait. What gets a little lost here is just what a capable/smart spot scorer she can be. Abi has an under-appreciated mid-range game and more obvious top of the key shoot touching that she can employ to jump start an offense when needed. And while she’s not very big, I love Abi’s fearlessness and toughness. And I am not alone. She will likely land at Columbia College playing for Quincy University legend Jessica Keller, who knows a thing or two about those qualities and the value of players who improve the entire fabric of a roster just by their inclusion there.
RESERVE: KAITLYNN KUNTZ
CLOPTON HIGH SCHOOL
THE SKINNY: We’ve pointed out, ad nauseam, the incredible depth and talent simmering within the Class of 2019. That “glut of goodness” can have a benumbing effect however. See also: Kuntz, Kaitlynn. The uber-talented Sophomore in an uber-talented Sophomore Class who tends to get most overlooked. I spoke with at least one college coach this season who as seen all of the great guards in our region and thinks that Miss Kuntz might ultimately be the best of the lot at the college level. Keep in mind, however, some of that notion might be based in the reality that all coaches prize defense and that Kaitlynn is far and away the best on the ball backcourt defender in our area at this very moment. And she’s sixteen. She led the area with 143 steals this season, which works out to better than five swipes per game. She had 13 of them alone in the season opener against Wellsville/Middleton. We are talking Pernell Whitaker in his prime type hand speed. Her sense of anticipation and her suddenness in poking away the basketball would be the most impressive part of her game; if not for this little nugget: Kaitlynn created all of that havoc while amassing just 67 total fouls all year. Two per game. It defies explanation that a kid can be that active and yet that disciplined and restrained all at the same time. It is, for my money, the most unique phenomenon in Tri-State Girls Basketball. She is a uniquely deployable weapon on that merit alone. There rest of her game isn’t too shabby either. She can shoot the basketball. Miss Kuntz averaged 12.5 points per contest on 47% shooting from the field, including very credible metrics on her two point attempts (54%) and three point shots (37%). She, of course, moves the ball (117 assists) very well; a Clopton hallmark at nearly all positions on the floor. And her quickness is probably going to allow her to eat up some of the missing rebound production next year when Ashtyn Lagemann heads off to college and the Lady Hawks become collectively a much shorter team. Kaitlynn is an absolute blur on the floor and a treat to watch; and she’s only going to get better with more work. Speed kills and she’s going to give everyone she plays De’Aaron Fox-styled fits next season; which makes her potential heads-up meeting with Laney Lantz at the Superfan Shootout next February must see basketball. I’m already giddy. As we saw from both Miss Kuntz and Jillian Lockhard, there’s still plenty of really good young talent in the seemingly endless Clopton pipeline. Don’t be surprised if Miss Kuntz doesn’t find her way into a POY discussion or two in the next few years. History suggests Clopton will have the resume to make that stand up.
Reserve: MCKENZIE NORTHUP
Central Lee High School
THE SKINNY: Three Sophomores on our First Team lineup? You bet and with good reason. McKenzie Northup is the credentialed Combo Guard this list sorely lacks. An 18 point per game scorer who converts 48% of her shots from the field and 75% of her trips to the line? Yes, please. Miss Northup is a natural scorer, which is obviously a coveted talent in this sport. She’s a lightning bolt to the basket in transition and a great pick and pop player in the half court. More than anything, I love how she gets inside fearlessly and gets herself free shot opportunities. McKenzie is a seeming magnet for fouls and had 173 trips to the charity stripe. She’s also a much better three point shooter than she showed in converting 26 triples (34% from the arc) this season. See handles the other end of the spectrum of her floor general duties quite well though. Her comfort level with the basketball in her hands is incredibly high; like one of those old school New York Playground Point Guards. The “this is my ball and we got this” feel. She’s a proficient passer and fed her teammates to the tune of 77 total assists, with a particular penchant for finding the open three point shooter. She’s a decent defender and smartly, stays out of foul trouble. I found it amusing that she also led her team in blocked shots this Winter with 28, making her the designated “rim protector” on her vertically inhibited team. All kidding aside, I love McKenzie’s potential arc here. She was the main offensive staple in an equation that netted 19 wins in 23 games. And this is a group of girls that collectively are improving together. Next year should be plenty fun and it would not shock me to see us talking about McKenzie Northup in Calesse Bair type stat tones in the next two years if the Lady Hawks can make a run to Des Moines.
KEOKUK HIGH SCHOOL
THE CASE FOR MICHAELA: Brutally tough First Team omissions here across the board but Keokuk’s offensive struggles as a team were vexing and sadly point guards carry the brunt of that. Michaela was the lone double digit nightly scorer on the crew at 12 points per night on 40% efficiency from the field and 34% from three. Realize those percentages are a little depressed because I think Miss Davis was pushing to break this team out of its shooting struggles nightly. We prize her here more for the Mike Conley style positives she brings to the table. Artistic pass creator (74 assists for the year) and flat out ravenous system defender (86 steals) are monikers we relish on this team. Michaela does both at an A level here. I also like that she productively rebounds for her size and shows considerable fight/spunkiness on the interior mixing it up when she ventures to the paint.
UNITH HIGH SCHOOL
THE CASE FOR KAYLEE: Injury woes late/early team struggles hampered her Senior Year campaign a smidge but for much of that State Championship showdown with Annawan, Kaylee Kuhn looked like the best player on the floor for either team. That’s a saying a lot considering the talent on display there. The very epitome of a Student Athlete and three sport star, my favorite Kaylee Kuhn moments will always be those text book poke-aways and contorting finishes at the other end of the floor. And she did finish with 143 takeaways despite missing parts of the early postseason. There’s a certain natural fluidity and effortless athleticism to the way Kaylee ran the floor and made things happen that just was always so much fun to watch. I thought she turned herself into both a heck of a scorer/shooter over the last four years and that paid dividends in broadening her game. A high achiever in all she does and one of the best work ethics around. This program is going to miss her a ton, but has been made infinitely better by her short presence there.
Clark County High School
THE CASE FOR CARISSA: We told you this level of play was coming from Carissa three years ago. She’s got a special it-factor as a point guard that jumps off the page when you watch her play. The First Team All CCC Selection put up a robust stat line nightly (12points, 6 boards, 3 assists) but it’s her feel for the game that has been most evident since the jump here. She makes things happen, be it table setting for teammates or picking her spot for the big three that sends a needed shot of momentum straight to her squad’s collective heart. She’s a strong player with great size for a PG who is particularly effective on the interior. She’s got some of the best touch through tough contact of any player you will find in our area; which essentially negates any attempt to be physical with her. She’s also go two straight Conference Titles on her resume already and chance to really dominate next season. That CCC POY slot is finally vacant after three years of Kroeger monopoly. This might be your odds on bet to succeed her in 2018.
Highland High School
THE CASE FOR KAITLIN: First things first: how do you not admire a young women and her entire family showing so much personal strength while dealing with such a scary medical situation on the home front. Hats off to all of you and our prayers to you. From a pure basketball standpoint, there is just so much promise to be mined from her game. Kaitlin needs to tighten up her streaky shooting obviously (what Sophomore doesn’t) but the high points of her skill set (handle, first step explosion past defenders, floor vision, defensive chops) are all beguiling. She posted a team high 15 points per game to go along with quads across her nightly box score (4 assists, 4 steals, 4 rounds) in route to Second Team All Cannon Conference Accord. Highland might well be the team that finished sub-500 this Winter with the best chance of reversing fortunes next year. And this stellar underclass nucleus, fronted by Kaitlin Benson and Kennedy Flanagan are the locomotive driving that train.
LAKYN HUGENBERG, Canton
KAYLEE FALCONER, Hannibal
ALAINA VANCE, Central-Southeastern
ALEXIS DOYLE, Brown County
JADA HUMPHREY, Quincy High
KHQA ALL GRIT AND GRIND TEAM
Center-ARI BENJAMIN, Quincy High
Forward-KACI AMES, Keokuk
Forward-LOGAN WISE, South Shelby
Guard-KATELYN OBERT, Liberty
Guard-KAMRYN FLESNER, Payson Seymour
KHQA ALL CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED TEAM
Forward-ABBY RICH, North Shelby
Forward- TESSA INGLES, R/I
Guard-ERIN JOHNSON, Illini West
Guard-JENNA BERGMAN, Clark County
Guard-LAUREN KENNEDY, Griggsville-Perry
KHQA ALL FUTURES TEAM
Center-JORDAN WALSTON, Western
Forward-TARYN ROE, Liberty
Guard-OLIVIA EDWARDS, Quincy High
Guard-MADISON MEYER, QND
Guard- KAYLEE NICHOLS, Unity