In a preseason basketball preview, a local sports writer perhaps went a little bit over the top in asserting that Neosho girls basketball coach Grant Berendt had a senior class to die or to kill for. But perhaps not.
The Lady Wildcats’ six seniors — in alphabetical order, Allison Burr, Tori Frazier, Makayla Hayes, Caitlyn Jordon, Emilee Kivett, and Ashley Talley — totaled three winning seasons during their four years of high school basketball and won 61 games overall.
“All six kids are special in the program and part of the rebuilding process that we went through,” Berendt said. “Four of them — Makayla, Allison, Caitlyn, and Ashley — all dressed varsity from their freshman year on. Makayla Hayes and Allison Burr played in every single varsity game in their four-year career, all 103 games. The next year, as sophomores, all six of those kids played varsity. There’s a lot of varsity minutes that were on the floor this year for us. This next season, we’ll be replacing a lot of varsity minutes these kids put in.”
Not only have they excelled athletically, but in all areas of life.
“All six kids are what you would refer to as a student-athlete,” Berendt said. “They’re all very good in the classroom. All our ACT scores are very high. We’ll end up with three All-Academic State kids and each sport has its unique requirement. On basketball, it’s that you must score 27 or higher on your ACT to accomplish that goal.
“We have kids that are going to go on and have great jobs one day, from doctors to speech pathology. I’ve got some girls that want to do some business stuff, and some kids in criminology. A wide variety of careers are ahead of them. We’ll have two of these girls playing college basketball. We’ll have another playing college soccer and one more playing college softball. The other two girls had both drew interest in sports, so all were very qualified in all areas of the game that high schools want to call the student-athlete.”
In the fall, Frazier signed with Missouri Southern to play softball and Jordon recently signed with Northwest Missouri to play basketball. Hayes and Talley have significant interests from colleges interested in their skills in basketball and soccer, respectively.
In addition, Talley, Hayes, and Kivett each played on the first-ever district champion girls soccer team last season.
All six players had separate interviews on March 2 and here’s their answers to the questions asked. Keep in mind the Nixa game had just been played earlier in the week. That’s the Monday night referenced by five of the six players below.
“Probably the 2 a.m. game last year when we played in Columbia,” Burr said, “and probably my junior year when we were playing Webb City and I hit the game-winner.”
“Probably the 2 a.m. game because it was so fun,” Frazier said. “We grew a lot as a team and I just felt like the bonding experience was the best part.”
“When we were playing the Willard game,” Hayes said, “on Senior Night and not only because it was special for all of us as a group, it was special for me because I scored my 1,000th point. The emotion that came with that was how hard I worked and the effort that showed. It was just a fun game because we all came out on fire and it was just exciting. Those are the games that are really enjoyable in basketball.”
“I enjoyed the 2 a.m. game from last year,” Jordon said. “You wouldn’t think it would be fun, but it was fun because we all had a lot of energy staying up and then afterwards, we had delirious moments of being up for so long. It was just a fun game and very memorable.”
“My favorite moment was actually this year when we played Nevada in the Carl Junction tournament,” Kivett said, “and there were 1.5 seconds left. Makayla shot a free throw and missed, and I got the rebound and the putback to put us up by one. We won that game, and it was awesome.”
“My sophomore year against East Newton,” Talley said, “I hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win us the game.”
“Definitely Monday (against Nixa) when we lost,” Burr said, “because I think we had been prepping for that game like all our four years. Losing it was heartbreaking.”
“Losing in the first round of districts to Nixa,” Frazier said, “because we should have beat them. I think we had all the tools and we just didn’t have our best game.”
“I was disappointed this year that we didn’t reach our goal of districts,” Hayes said. “We had the same outcome of being beat by Nixa and there’s nothing we can go back and do about it now, but as a team I felt like we could have gave more and we didn’t. That’s disappointing, because we weren’t able to get what we had worked for.”
“Probably the ACL tear,” Jordon said. “Not being able to play junior year was definitely a disappointment. Missing out not being to able to play with them, but still getting to be on the team was nice. Not playing was definitely hard. … Rehab was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, just because trying to build back that muscle and not being able to do a lot of things I’m used to, like running and jumping, I couldn’t do that for four months. So that was difficult and mentally, once I got cleared, not thinking about it in the back of my head. It was a difficult process, but it was good for me once I realized that I can do this.”
“I think our Monday game (against Nixa) was my biggest disappointment,” Kivett said, “because they were 100 percent beatable.”
“Probably Monday night (against Nixa),” Talley said, “because we could beat them. I think we all believed that we were fully capable of winning districts. That’s been our goal all along and it just didn’t work out for us.”
THROUGH THICK AND THIN
“We’re family,” Burr said. “Like no other sports group, I don’t feel like they have the bond that we share. We’ve all grown up together and we’re like family both on and off the court. It’s been special through high school and basketball.”
“It’s been awesome,” Frazier said. “We’re all best friends and we’ve made our best friends on this team, and I can’t imagine life without them right now.”
“My overall experience here (at Neosho) has been good,” Hayes said, “mainly because of the six of us. We’ve grown up playing basketball together. At least Emilee, Allison, and I, we’ve played on the Storm basketball team, we’ve grown up playing basketball together here in Neosho. There’s been very few basketball games where I’ve played without them. Then, we’ve all played together since seventh grade and it shows the dedication that we have had as a group sticking it out over the years.
“It’s not easy coming in for five months in a season and going on all through the summer, and not being able to wake up around (noon) like some high schoolers do. I think we’ve had a greater bond throughout the years because we were very successful in seventh and eighth grade, losing one game both seasons. I think it carried us through this season, even though it wasn’t exactly the season that we wanted … being together was more memorable that way than not.”
“We’ve all been playing together for so long,” Jordon said. “We lost a few here and there, but the six of us are super close because we’ve all been through so much and I think over the past four years, we’ve all grown individually and together. This year has been really fun, just playing with them and getting to experience everything for the last time. I’m super close with all of them and I think we’ll stay in touch somewhat throughout the years.”
“They are my family,” Kivett said. “I’ve been with most of these girls since second grade. They really made the whole experience wonderful and I’ve had a family with them, and that was really great to have the four years. … Lifetime best friends. We’re already talking about meeting in the summers every year.”
“It’s been a good experience because we’ve been a close-knit team through it all,” Talley said. “We’ve played together for so long and I think it’s made us a better team. It made our chemistry strong.”
“Not playing sports,” Burr said. “That’s been hard to give up, but I’ll probably just go to Crowder and study.”
“I’m going to go to Missouri Southern and I want to study biology pre-medicine there while playing softball there,” Frazier said. “I’m excited about that, because I think it’s a great team and I can’t wait to go.”
“I haven’t decided on a college yet,” Hayes said, “like a specific college. Obviously, I’m going to go play collegiately, but I think I’m going to start deciding here soon. I have a couple offers, then I’m going to do some more tryouts. … It’s harder if you don’t start recruiting early, because you get into the problem of where colleges want you but they don’t have the money to offer you in scholarship money, because I’m paying for college all by myself.”
“I’m real excited (about Northwest Missouri),” Jordon said. “Just came out of the blue. Once I went to visit, I was taken away with the school and really liked all the players and the coaches. Once they offered, I jumped on it, so I’m really excited to continue basketball and go up there farther away than Neosho and experience something new. I think it will be fun. A little nervous, but excited.”
“I am going to go to Missouri State in Springfield and major in speech pathology,” Kivett said.
“I’m not completely decided on what I’m going to do,” Talley said, “but I’m going to go play soccer in college.”