The success stories over the past school year for Tri-Lakes area high school and college teams included a nice assortment of the old and the new.
For every familiar old-school powerhouse – like Reeds Spring football – there seemed to be a newcomer to the party – such as Blue Eye cross country.
It made for riveting viewing for sports fans in the area, with playoff runs, landmark victories, and a trip to the finals of a national tournament for a College of the Ozarks team.
Here’s a look back at the top memories from the fall sports season – and teams to keep an eye on in the years to come.
REEDS SPRING FOOTBALL
There’s nothing new about the Reeds Spring football program enjoying success.
In the six seasons going into the fall of 2018, the Wolves compiled an overall record of 53-16, with a pair of 10-victory seasons.
Reeds Spring enjoyed another big season last fall, winning its first five games and finishing 7-4 before losing to Mt. Vernon in the second round of the postseason.
The biggest moment of the regular season came in Week 4, when the Wolves visited Mt. Vernon for a battle of Big 8 Conference unbeatens.
The game had a little bit of everything – a Seth Stamps touchdown return of the second-half kickoff, a hook-and-ladder play that started with a pass from Blake Gronvold to Cole Watson, then a pitch to Stamps for the go-ahead touchdown, and a Gronvold interception of a two-point conversion pass that sealed the victory.
In the end, it was a 27-26 victory for Reeds Spring.
“Anytime you come to Mount Vernon and get a win, it’s big,” coach Lance Gosch said. “It’s a tough place to play, and there were a bunch of points in the game where we could have got our heads down and let it get out of control. We didn’t. We just kept plugging away.
“There weren’t a lot of plays to be made, because of the way they play defense, but the plays that were there, we made them. It was big.”
The season ended with a loss in the rematch with Mt. Vernon, but it was a(nother) season to remember for the Wolves, led by seven members of the all-area team, including Player of the Year Ben Moler.
Moler’s football career came to an end – he will attend Pittsburg State as just a “regular” student, and his father, Brian Moler, ended his coaching career at the school after being the head coach from 2008-2013, then an assistant from 2014-2018.
“To see him go through that with his dad, and how much Brian meant to the program, how much Ben meant to the program, that was a real neat deal,” Gosch said.
The record didn’t get better in the second season under Pirates’ coach Anthony Hays, but there were signs of growth in the program.
Branson finished 2-9 after a 2-1 start – dramatic victories at Republic in its first game in a sparkling new stadium, then a 6-0 win at Ozark in a game played in a driving rain.
Running back Jay Hill will be back for his senior season after rushing for a team-high 596 yards and scoring six touchdowns last fall.
Replacing stalwarts like linebacker Trey Hoenie and defensive back Britt Pierce will be difficult, but Hays is optimistic his team made strides that will pay off.
“Right now, I just think about the seniors and everything they’ve done for me,” Hays said after a 34-9 season-ending loss to Republic in district play. “They’ve worked hard and they bettered themselves as football players and young men. I’m proud of them and I’m going to miss them.
“Losing sucks, and I know that, I’m not trying to sugarcoat it. I really do feel like in a lot of ways we’re a better football program and we’ve got to keep working and keep building.”
Rich Adkins was the new sheriff in town for the Tigers in 2018, and the program was revitalized by his arrival.
The Tigers finished 4-6 and was competitive throughout, highlighted by a 20-14 overtime victory over Logan-Rogersville in Week 8 – Hollister’s first victory over the Wildcats in program history.
Also included were big efforts in a pair of losses, a 20-14 decision to perennial power Mt. Vernon in the regular-season finale, and a 31-26 loss to Marshfield.
While Hollister still hasn’t finished over the .500 mark on the varsity level in its short history, there are signs this program is worth keeping an eye on.
While the loss of seniors like Logan Armitage, Jesse Wright, Logan Narvaez and Dylan Barber hurts, there is a big group of young players returning, including quarterback Layton Morgan and Kelby Gard.
“I think we built a solid foundation for the future,” Adkins said. “We set the expectations that we are here to compete and win football games, and we proved we could do that. That’s a big thing, for the kids and the community.”
BLUE EYE CROSS COUNTRY
The addition of freshman twins Riley Arnold and Avery Arnold paid huge dividends throughout the girls’ sports programs at Blue Eye High School, starting with cross country in the fall.
Riley Arnold was the individual medalist, with Avery Arnold finishing second at the Class 1 state meet, as the Lady Bulldogs finished second as a team.
“We are really lucky and very thankful,” coach Jacob Thompson-Krug said of the arrival of the Arnold twins. “They are not only great athletes, but great kids.
“They are hard-working and respectful, and they really respect the process, which is very important.”
The team’s success was about much more than the Arnolds, though. Freshman Braylynn Siercks was 11th at the state meet, with Olivia LaBrier taking 22nd.
HOLLISTER CROSS COUNTRY
The Hollister girls celebrated a season of dominance in the fall, following team titles at the Republic Invitational, Buffalo Invitational and Hollister Invitational with the championship at the Big 8 Conference Meet.
It was the first conference girls’ championship for Hollister since it won the 2007 Southwest Central League championship.
All-conference honors went to Patience Pinson (eighth), Kylee Winkert (ninth), Craigon Bradley (11th) and Alexia Hackman (13th).
“This has been a work in progress since the girls were in seventh grade,” Hollister coach Scott Wenger said. “They had a great summer and are now getting rewarded for their efforts.”
C OF O VOLLEYBALL
The Lady Bobcats enjoyed their best season ever on the volleyball court, finishing with a 33-7 record, tearing off an 18-match winning streak and advancing to the championship match of the NCCAA Tournament.
C of O hosted the NCCAA event, ending in a four-set loss to Biola University in the finals. The Lady Bobcats handed Biola its only set loss in the tournament, and were the only team to force Biola to even take a timeout.
“We were a significant underdog,” C of O coach Stacy Muckenthaler said. “Just getting them to take a timeout – then multiple – and then sneaking a set away, was big.
“We just couldn’t find a way to win because they have so many weapons. But the girls played their butts off today and I’m so proud of their work ethic all season. It was a fun game.”
Spears was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, and joined Rielly Dobbs on the All-Tournament Team.
Spears, Dobbs and Kayli Grant all were named to the NCCAA All-American first team. It was all part of a season – and tournament run – to remember for C of O.
“They’re not trying to go pro, they’re just here to get their education paid for, and have fun doing it,” Muckenthaler said. “That’s what we did, and it’s the most successful season we’ve ever had.
“I don’t think that’s by accident.”
BLUE EYE VOLLEYBALL
The Arnold twins played double-duty for Blue Eye in the fall, adding volleyball to their cross country talents.
It paid off for the Lady Bulldogs, who finished with a 26-9 overall record, a championship at the Class 1 District 6 Tournament and appearance in the state sectional round.
The season ended with a three-set loss to Lesterville in the sectionals, but that loss didn’t diminish the memories put together for Blue Eye.
The team ripped off a 10-match winning streak and was led by Tri-Lakes Player of the Year Taylor Arnold, who also was named Player of the Year in the Southwest Central League after helping Blue Eye win its first district volleyball title.
Since arriving in Blue Eye before her junior season – moving in from Nixa – Arnold helped Blue Eye compile a 45-17-4 record on the volleyball court.
“One of the best qualities that Taylor brought to our team was her leadership,” coach Taylor Wittl said. “She commands the court, and her court presence is impeccable. Her teammates trust her completely, and that’s so big.
“I think her leadership is the biggest thing, in addition to her phenomenal athletic ability.”
The Lady Pirates finished with a 17-15 overall record last fall, losing to Springfield Parkview in the opening round of the Class 4 District 10 Tournament.
But the bright spots for Branson had little to do with the final record, or any numbers affiliated with the program. It had to do more with the arrival of coach Kailey Bridges and the stability she has brought to the program.
Bridges came on board last summer, as its third coach in as many seasons. The Logan-Rogersville and Missouri State graduate came to Branson from Marshfield, and is looking to build a program with deep roots.
“This year, we spent a lot of time showing the girls that we are here for them,” Bridges said. “We are here to support them, I’m not going anywhere. They’ve got some commitment issues, because they’ve had a handful of coaches over the last few years.
“We really want them to know that we are there for them, we aren’t going anywhere, we’re sticking around for the long haul and to make them better.”
Further growth is expected this fall, with only three seniors lost and nine juniors poised to return.
S OF O VOLLEYBALL
The Lady Patriots enjoyed another strong season, winning their first 10 matches, finishing with a 22-9-2 overall record and losing to Blue Eye in the district tournament finals.
A string of injuries hurt S of O during the middle of the season, but the Lady Patriots rebounded in time to make a run in the postseason.
In the last two seasons, coach Charlie Warfield’s team finished with an overall record of 44-17-6.
“In practices, we haven’t been acting like it’s going to be handed to us, anytime, anywhere,” senior Olivia Vinton said.
“When we go on the court, we know what to do and know not to get rattled if it’s not going our way. We know to fight back and if we keep going with it, you can keep getting those points.”
REEDS SPRING SOFTBALL
The Izzy Erickson Show was on full display for the Wolves last fall, as the talented junior did a little bit of everything in helping the team to an 18-6 final record.
Reeds Spring was eliminated by Bolivar in the opening round of the Class 3 District 11 Tournament, but had plenty of big moments along the way.
The Wolves opened the season with four consecutive victories, won 11 of 12 games at one point and posted impressive victories over strong teams from Camdenton and Logan-Rogersville.
Erickson added to her lofty career experiences, including a 13-strikeout game in a two-hit shutout of reigning Class 3 state champion Monett.
She finished with a .459 batting average, matched the school’s single-season record for home runs in a season, with eight, and went 12-5 in the circle, striking out 230 in 117 1/3 innings.
In addition to her play on the field, coach Scott Walker appreciates Erickson’s presence and willingness to work with younger kids in the program and district.
“I think she did a great job with kids this year that worked with her,” Walker said. “As far as what she looks at when she is hitting, what she is doing in practice, her mindset, and things like that.
“We always try and take the next-level kids and work them with our older kids.”
The Lady Pirates opened a new era, with first-year coach Josh McKee leading the way during a 14-14 season that saw its share of ups and downs.
Branson answered a five-game losing streak with four victories and the title at the Lady Pirate Invitational, and also posted impressive victories over talented teams Logan-Rogersville and Walnut Grove during the season.
The year ended with a loss to Springfield Glendale in the opener of the Class 4 District 10 Tournament, ending the career for five seniors: Emily Adams, Aly Smethers, Molly Hagston, Bellanne Johnson and Amber Large.
“It was a lot of fun,” McKee said of his first season. “It’s a great group of girls, they were very open-minded, very welcoming and warming to me and the things I was wanting to do.
Injuries and shorthanded play were ways of life for the Pirates, who still managed to finish with a 15-10 record under coach David Brenner.
The Pirates had only three games playing with the same 11-player starting lineup they started the season with.
Even with all that, Branson earned some season-defining victories, beating a Springfield Catholic team that finished 20-4, a Willard team that ended with a 15-8-1 mark, and strong teams from West Plains, Republic, Logan-Rogersville and Carthage.
Brenner declined to label the injury-riddled season as “frustrating,” but said it only opened doors for other players.
“I think it just gave opportunities,” Brenner said. “Obviously you want your very best all the time, and these 11 were the very best.
“But the guys who stepped up in their absence did a great job. I’m very proud of this team. I’m proud of the young guys and how much they have grown this year. We’ll take a couple weeks off, get healthy and then start planning for next year.”
(Check back with Bransontrilakesnews.com for part two of this three-part series.)