High schools began practicing for the upcoming season on Monday.
High schools began practicing for the upcoming season on Monday.
In a previous edition of the Daily News, we took a look at some of the more interesting games and themes of the upcoming football season.
Now, we’re here — pardon the pun — to tackle the other fall sports.
• The Neosho Lady Wildcats have one of their own now for head coach of the softball team — Catie Cummins takes over for Megan Burleson after Burleson coached the Lady Wildcats one season. Cummins, a former Neosho High and Pittsburg State standout, served as assistant last season.
This is Neosho’s third head coach in as many seasons.
Cummins played for Melissa Clark in high school and she earned all-conference, all-district, and all-area honors during a senior season in which she led the Lady Wildcats in doubles, triples, walks, and slugging percentage. She was named Neosho High’s female athlete of the year in 2012.
During her senior season at Pitt State, Cummins hit .276 (45 for 163) with one home run and 22 RBI as the Gorillas finished with a 39-19 overall record, including 15-3 at home.
Speaking of Neosho alumni now in coaching positions at the high school, we have head coach Emily (Paullus) Abell and assistant Dora Eastin in cross country this season.
Abell graduated from Neosho in 2011 and still holds the school record for the 300-meter hurdles. Abell participated in track in college at Missouri Southern, in the pentathlon.
She was an assistant for the high school last season under Mark Robinson.
Eastin, like Abell, competed at Neosho and Missouri Southern, and she competed in the Boston Marathon this past spring.
Abell and Eastin look to bring the Wildcats’ cross country program back to its success.
• The Big 8 Conference had over half its softball teams in district finals last fall.
The Monett Lady Cubs — conference champions — won a Class 3, District 12 title after edging Big 8 rivals Aurora 4-3 in 16 innings and then Cassville 6-5 in the finals. At sectionals, Monett lost 6-4 to West Plains.
The McDonald County Lady Mustangs — who lost an epic 10-9 game to Monett in the regular season — came out Class 4, District 12 champions after prevailing a 1-0 pitchers’ duel between McDonald County’s Paige Jones and Republic’s Rachel Rook. McDonald County fell 5-2 to Ozark at sectionals.
The Lady Mustangs graduated Jones — now at Labette (Kansas) Community College, a team coached by Neosho native Ryan Phillips — and the Lady Tigers graduated Rook (who signed with Southeast Missouri), for that matter, but outfielder Cloee Helm and star catcher Kylie Helm should return for McDonald County. (The latter Helm had a dynamite sophomore season including a .656 average, 59 hits, 13 doubles, four triples, six home runs, 36 RBI, and 22 runs scored.)
The Seneca Lady Indians reached the Class 2, District 12 finals and lost by a 3-2 score to Pleasant Hope, who’s slated to be the district host this season.
These teams played some dynamite games against each other last season and we can only hope they will do so again this season.
• The fall softball season will introduce a new rule change — protective masks mandatory for pitchers and strongly recommended for corner infielders.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association addressed this rule change in one paragraph in the 2016-17 softball manual: “Beginning in the Fall of 2017 it will be required for the Pitcher to wear a protective mask. The softball advisory committee also strongly urges the first and third basemen to do the same.”
Just this past high school baseball season, we saw the implementation nationwide of pitch count and days rest restrictions for pitchers, based on a desire to limit players’ arms from wear and tear.
The very legitimate fear in softball is that a 65 mph fastball thrown from only 43 feet away (distance from pitching rubber to home plate) will quickly turn into a 100 mph batted ball, dangerous to anybody in the path of potential destruction. There’s a reason, for example, why the third base position earned the name “hot corner.”
Combing through the photo archives from last fall, former McDonald County first baseman Aubrie Dunn sported a face mask, as did teammate and third baseman Whitney Kinser, but most pitchers from the Daily News coverage area did not last season, including former McDonald County standout Jones (she had sunglasses) and former Neosho standout Cloe Neece (who sported a pink headband). The exception was Seneca pitcher Chelsea Beville.
Former Republic stalwart Rook and Ozark’s Brooke Pridgen both wore protective masks … Rook sported facial protection all four years of her prep career. Despite her protective mask, Rook still smarted after taking a hard comebacker in the district championship game against McDonald County.
• Meanwhile, on the courts of volleyball, a main story coming into the season will be whether or not the Neosho Lady Wildcats can enter the wins column for the first time in quite some time.
Neosho’s last win was September 10, 2015 against the Monett Lady Cubs. Since that match, the Lady Wildcats own a 0-46-4 record over their last 50 matches.
During last season, Monett ended its 39-match losing streak with a win against Neosho.
• Last fall, the schools in Class 3, District 12 boys soccer benefited from McDonald County moving in and Carthage moving out of the district.
Whether it was Class 3 or Class 2, Carthage had been the dominating force in District 12 for several seasons, dating back to 2012, coming out ahead of either Carl Junction, Joplin or Neosho in the finals. (For the record, Carthage has won nine straight district titles overall.)
Carl Junction took advantage of the opportunity with a 2-1 win over Neosho in the district final. This was the Bulldogs’ first district title since 2003.
The Wildcats look to match what the Lady Wildcats did in the spring, by winning a district title. That was the first in Lady Wildcats history and their program began in 2001.
Neosho last won a district title in boys soccer in 2004. (That run included a 2-1 double overtime win over Kickapoo in the semis and a win over Parkview in the finals. Nov. 4, 2004 was quite a day for Neosho sports, between the boys soccer district title and Phillip Main’s five interceptions against McDonald County in a 26-13 win over the Mustangs.)
• The Neosho girls tennis squad graduated five players from its starting lineup last season and the Lady Wildcats have an early- to mid-season stretch away from home that will undoubtedly tell us a lot about this season — August 29 at Lamar, August 31 at Monett, September 5 at Republic with Ozark, September 7 at College Heights, September 8 back to Republic for a tournament, and September 11 against Joplin and Webb City.
Just a couple seasons ago, the Lady Wildcats played for a district title.
Aug. 21 — Neosho softball vs. Cassville
Aug. 24 — Neosho softball vs. McDonald County; McDonald County volleyball vs. Diamond
Aug. 28 — Neosho boys soccer vs. Joplin
Aug. 29 — Diamond volleyball vs. East Newton
Aug. 31 — Neosho volleyball vs. East Newton; Diamond volleyball vs. Seneca
Sept. 7 — Seneca softball vs. McDonald County
Sept. 11 — Neosho volleyball at McDonald County
Sept. 16 — Southern Stampede (cross country)
Sept. 18 — Neosho volleyball at Seneca
Sept. 19 — East Newton softball vs. Seneca
Sept. 21 — Neosho boys soccer vs. McDonald County; East Newton softball vs. McDonald County
Sept. 23 — East Newton meet (cross country)
Sept. 25 — Neosho softball at East Newton
Sept. 26 — McDonald County softball vs. Monett
Oct. 2 — Neosho softball at Seneca
Oct. 3 — Neosho volleyball vs. Diamond; Seneca volleyball vs. McDonald County
Oct. 10 — McDonald County volleyball vs. East Newton