Neosho head coach Grant Berendt has a returning senior class that most coaches and most schools would die or kill for.
“Many of these seniors have been full-time varsity players since they were freshmen,” Berendt said. “They have been through the battles that our schedule, conference and district, can throw at you. Our attitudes have been great. The girls have worked really hard this summer and fall on developing their game. There are a lot of people excited about this season.”
Let’s go through all six of the seniors with quotes from Berendt in a preview for the 4-State Coaches Association.
Makayla Hayes earned first team all-conference and all-district honors during her junior season, and she averaged 12.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 steals, proving herself one of the most capable all-around players in the area.
“She is another player on this team that could play several different spots,” Berendt said. “Makayla is one of our defensive leaders and a great communicator on the court. Makayla has the ability to score in a variety of ways. We expect big things this season from Makayla.”
Allison Burr averaged 8.8 points, two rebounds, and 1.7 steals last season, a very capable shooter and scorer with three years of starting experience at the varsity level.
“Allison has the ability to be very explosive offensively,” Berendt said. “She can score in a variety of ways for our team. Allison is a very good free throw shooter and we want her to get there a few more times this season.”
Emilee Kivett averaged 3.9 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, and she’s one of those players whom you’ll notice around the ball constantly.
“Emilee is a do-it-all kind of kid,” Berendt said. “Emilee is a very athletic player that bring a lot of energy to our team. Emilee is a fearless rebounder for being undersized. She embraces doing the dirty work for our team. Emilee has the ability to play all over the court and guard several positions. Emilee has worked hard on expanding her offensive game over the offseason.”
Ashley Talley returns as the starting point guard and she averaged 2.7 points, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals.
“Ashley learned a lot and feels very comfortable in this position,” Berendt said. “She is good at finding and getting her teammates the ball where they need it. She is a very unselfish kid. Ashley is one of our toughest kids and one of our best defenders. Ashley has worked hard this offseason on her shot. Ashley has the capability of being a big scorer for our team. She pushes the ball very well in our transition game.”
Tori Frazier, another guard, averaged 2.2 points.
“Tori can play several positions for our team,” Berendt said. “She is a good defender and is a very unselfish player. Tori runs the point for our team. Tori has put a lot of time in developing her skills during the offseason. She has the ability to attack the rim and step out and knock down the 3.”
Caitlyn Jordon returns for her senior campaign after missing the entirety of her junior season with a knee injury. Jordon earned all-conference second team and all-district honors her sophomore season, averaging 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, two steals, and 1.3 assists.
“It is great to have her back,” Berendt said. “Whenever you can get an all-conference and all-district player back, it will make your team better. She was a big part of last season, even though she didn’t step foot on the court for us. She has a great work ethic and has potential to be a very good player. She is very versatile and can help our team in many ways.”
This senior group were freshmen when Berendt took over the head coaching reins and have been part of two winning seasons, including last season’s 16-10 overall record. Berendt talked about the special nature of this season’s seniors.
“It is hard to believe that this is Year 4,” Berendt said. “They are a special group of kids that have turned the look of our program around. They have had some help along the way with good seniors before them, but they have stayed together. We have six seniors that will play a lot of our varsity minutes this season. This is a special group!
“We have had some good players come through the program since I have been here, four playing college basketball, but this is the biggest senior class we have had in many, many years. This is my first graduating class and many of them have been playing on the varsity since they were freshmen or sophomores. This group is special because they get along so well and they have played together since grade school. This group has worked very hard to set themselves apart from others and bring back respect to the Neosho girls basketball program.”
Other key varsity contributors this season will be junior Madison Flynn, junior Gabee Rainwater, and sophomore Mary Dunbar.
Neosho — both boys and girls — compete in one of the most competitive conferences and districts in the state, the Central Ozark Conference Large and Class 5, District 12.
“I’m excited about the upcoming season,” Berendt said. “I feel that we made strides last year in the progress of this program. Our conference and district produces college players year in and year out. Many of our girls have been playing on the varsity team since they were freshmen. We have several girls that have invested a lot of time in the gym during the offseason.
“We had a good summer, tried to play different teams and teams that we would not normally see during the regular season. I think our girls understand the style we have to play to be successful. If we come to play every night in conference and districts like we should, we can play a significant factor in the conference and district outcome.”
The Lady Wildcats’ last three seasons have ended in the district semifinals with losses to Nixa.
“We have a few goals for the season,” Berendt said. “This is an experienced team that has a good work ethic. We want to play to our capacity every night we have a game. We have had winning seasons, but we have not made much of an impact in the postseason. We know our conference and district are both of the toughest in the state, but our girls feel that if we do what we are capable of, we can make some noise this season.”
Neosho hosts the district tournament this season.
Neosho changed up its tournament schedule and the Lady Wildcats were still altering their schedule in the process of generating this season preview.
For example, MSHSAA has the Neosho girls playing Clay City (Indiana) down on December 2, but that’s been taken off the schedule due to an Indiana state rule about playing teams from a distance of 600 miles. Berendt said that an appeal was denied.
Neosho only maintained the Holiday Classic on its tournament schedule from last season. Berendt said that this year’s field will be completed by McDonald County, Springdale Har-Ber, Bentonville, two-time defending champion Van Buren, Crest Ridge, St. Joseph Lafayette, and St. Joseph Central.
The Lady Wildcats have added tournaments at Carl Junction, Smith-Cotton, and Helias Catholic, the latter event a shootout.
Nov. 18 — at Joplin
Nov. 20 — at Seneca
Nov. 27-30 — Carl Junction Tournament
Dec. 6 — vs. Providence Academy
Dec. 18 — vs. East Newton
Dec. 28-30 — Neosho Holiday Classic
Jan. 2 — at Springfield Central
Jan. 8 — vs. Webb City
Jan. 11 — at Nixa
Jan. 18-20 — Smith-Cotton Tournament
Jan. 26 — at McDonald County
Jan. 29 — at Republic
Feb. 1 — vs. Branson
Feb. 3 — Central Bank Shootout
Feb. 5 — vs. Carthage
Feb. 8 — vs. Willard
Feb. 15 — at Ozark
Feb. 19 — at Carl Junction
Feb. 24-Mar. 1 — Districts at Neosho