The 2018-19 winter sports season was full of big individual performances and some big team success for Tri-Lakes area basketball teams.
And quite a bit of controversy, too.
Some of the team success (Blue Eye boys and girls) was expected. Some (Hollister girls) was a surprise.
Same with the individual dominance shown by Blue Eye’s Andrew Mitchell, Branson’s Priscilla Williams and Blue Eye’s Kohnnar Patton – not unexpected at all.
Some young players emerged as forces to watch in the future – especially Hollister sophomore Kendrick “Bug” Bailey.
The controversy? No one could have predicted that.
In the end, it made for a riveting sports season for area fans, and the promise of more moments to remember in the future.
Here’s a rundown of some of the top stories on the area sports scene over the last winter season …
COLLEGE OF THE OZARKS WOMEN
This past season saw the end of the line for one of the most decorated and successful classes in C of O women’s basketball history: Kelsie Cleeton, Cass Johnson and Madi Brethower.
But it was a sour ending, in a controversial loss to Northwestern (Iowa) in the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
The NAIA acknowledged later in the week that a scoring error gave Northwestern credit for three points on a two-point shot midway through the third quarter. In the end, it made the 71-70 loss even tougher to take for the Lady Bobcats.
“During the game featuring the College of the Ozarks and Northwestern College, there was a regrettable miscommunication between the official book and the official,” said Brad Cygan, director of athletics communication at the NAIA. “While our table crew and officials work very hard to ensure accuracy, this mistake was caught after the fact and therefore, not a correctable error in the game.”
That was the only comment issued by the national organization, despite repeated attempts to answer follow-up questions.
It gave C of O coach Becky Mullis and her team some closure, as the issue had been hanging over the program like a dark cloud.
“As Christians, we are called to forgive, so I’m going to choose to acknowledge that people are humans and they make mistakes,” she said. “The scoring error was a mistake, and as unfortunate as it is, and as huge of an impact as it had in a one-point loss, it’s tough to swallow.
“It’s heartbreaking for our kids because it changes everything for our kids at the end of the game, changes strategy, changes everything.”
C of O’s season ended with a 31-4 record, with winning streaks that covered, five, five, six and 15 games.
Cleeton was a first-team pick for the NAIA Division II All-American team for the second consecutive season, with Johnson voted to the second team.
On the NCCAA level, Cleeton was a first-team All-American, with Brethower and Ashley Forrest earning NCCAA Scholar-Athlete honors.
COLLEGE OF THE OZARKS MEN
The Bobcats turned it on down the stretch, winning five consecutive games and claiming a second-place finish at the Association of Independent Institutions Tournament in Lincoln, Illinois.
C of O dropped a heartbreaker to Voorhees College in the tournament finals, but the runner-up finish was enough for a return to the NAIA Division II Tournament after a one-year hiatus.
The season ended with a loss to West Virginia Tech in the opening round of the national tournament, leaving the Bobcats with a 22-11 record.
It also spelled the end of the line for a decorated senior class at C of O, led by Hollister native Ethan Davidson and Heath Carmichael.
Davidson was named a second-team All-American by the NAIA after averaging 25.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a senior, shooting 56.6 percent from the field.
Carmichael averaged 15.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, making a team-high 132 shots from 3-point range.
Nowhere did the new and fresh faces make more of a quick impression than with the Lady Tigers.
Veteran coach Jimmy Lincoln came on board, moving in after two seasons at Omaha High School in Arkansas.
Also moving in from Omaha was sophomore sensation Kendrick “Bug” Bailey, a point guard who played far bigger than her 5-foot-5 frame.
Bailey averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 assists per game, finishing with 67 steals and bringing a high basketball IQ to a young and inexperienced Hollister team. It netted her a spot on the all-area first team.
She was the cog – joined by several players on the roster who raised their game and helped lead the way – to a 15-12 final record.
That included victories over Willard, Lockwood and Wheaton, ending in a loss to superteam Strafford in the opening round of district play.
“I can’t really put any of this into words,” senior Taylor Sellers said. “I never imagined that we’d be able to work this hard and this well as a team and accomplish what we’ve done in half a year.
Look back to the last 10 years for the Hollister program, when the Lady Tigers went 57-172, and it shows the level of improvement.
It was a rewarding season for Lincoln, a 22-year coaching veteran throughout Missouri and Arkansas.
“I can say this – of all the years I’ve coached, I’ve had some successes, had a lot of good players and won district titles,” Lincoln said. “I’ve never had a year as enjoyable of watching a group grow, get better and start believing they can win.”
The Tigers finished with a 12-13 overall record, but those numbers alone don’t define their season.
Hollister enjoyed a big turning point at about the midpoint mark of the season, winning seven of its final 11 games before being eliminated by Clever in the district opener.
Even in the losses, Hollister threw a scare into state-ranked Logan-Rogersville, and host Clever in the districts.
The Tigers will lose eight seniors from that team, but the returnees include Presley David, a point guard who averaged 10.0 points per game, made 33 percent of his 3-point tries and made the all-area second team.
“We have a lot of young kids – we’re losing eight, which hurts us – but we’ve got a lot of young kids who are hopefully ready to step up and fill some shoes,” Leonard said.
The Lady Pirates welcomed a new face – with a history at the school – to the program last summer.
Priscilla Williams, an elite-level talent on the national scale, played for Branson for the first half of her sophomore season before leaving the program and the school.
She returned for her junior season, putting together one of the most dominant campaigns ever seen on the area basketball scene.
The Tri-Lakes Player of the Year averaged 27.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, making 52 shots from 3-point range and finishing with 77 blocked shots and 39 steals.
She is currently the focus of the recruiting efforts from some of the top college programs in the nation.
Williams scored a school-record 51 points – 33 in the first half alone – in a loss to Camdenton in mid-January, reached the 1,000-point mark for just her Branson career in early February, and was named to the Class 5 all-state first team. Perhaps most importantly, she showed a maturity and patience that helped raise the game for a hugely inexperienced and untested Branson roster. The Lady Pirates finished 15-12 and reached the semifinals of the district tournament.
“She is leaps and bounds from where she was at,” Branson coach Kip Bough said. “She has really grown, and honestly, that’s really what I’m most proud of, is where she’s at as a person and as a teammate. She has really, really grown.
“Now, she’s an absolute joy to coach. … That’s what I’m most proud of her for.”
The Pirates’ second season under coach Mike Linehan ended with a 12-15 record and loss to Springfield Kickapoo in the semifinals of the district tournament.
What many around the program will remember from the season, though, will be a stretch during that loss to the top-seeded Chiefs.
Branson put on a clinic in the first half against host Kickapoo, going on a 19-3 run to end the half, scoring the final 11 points of the second quarter to take a 35-26 lead into the break.
The game ended with Kickapoo claiming a 64-56 victory, and marked the final high school game for all-area first team pick Trey Benard (18.6 ppg, 72 made 3-pointers) and second-teamer Kyler Efird (7.0 ppg, 66 percent field goal shooting).
But with some talented young players coming back after earning valuable varsity experience, and a promising group coming up through the ranks, it has Linehan excited to see what the future holds.
“We gave Kickapoo everything they wanted, down three with two minutes left in the fourth,” Linehan said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of – they went down swinging. I love it, and I love coaching these kids. It’s been a lot of fun.”
BLUE EYE GIRLS
Blue Eye High School’s season of championships continued into the girls’ basketball scene, where the Lady Bulldogs repeated as district title-winners for the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 campaigns.
Blue Eye routed Spokane in the finals of the district tournament, then ran into a buzzsaw in the sectional round, losing to a deep and talented Spokane team. The Lady Bulldogs followed last season’s 24-6 finish with a 21-7 record.
The Lady Bulldogs tore off winning streaks of four, five and seven games, despite losing all-area first-teamer Kohnnar Patton for 10 games during the middle of the season with a stress fracture in her left leg.
Fellow starter Ayshia Bettlach and key reserve Maddie Box also missed time during the season with injuries.
The program saw key seniors Taylor Arnold, Bettlach, Kenzie Hobbs, Kenedi Larson and Hope Smith finish their careers as two-time district champions.
“This group of seniors is something special,” coach Ken Elfrink said. “They’ve won a lot of games, been with me since seventh grade, a very special group.
“They are all good-character kids. They are all going to be successful, they are going to go on to college and have good careers, whether it’s just going to school or playing at the next level.”
The return of Patton, the Tri-Lakes Player of the Year as a junior, will be huge. She averaged 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game and made 34 shots from 3-point range.
She will lead the way as the Lady Bulldogs chase the program’s first-ever district three-peat.
“I told the juniors and the sophomores that now it’s their time,” Elfrink said. “The seniors are going to pass the torch.”
BLUE EYE BOYS
Fate dealt a cruel blow to the Blue Eye boys’ basketball team, which put together winning streaks of eight and six games, finishing with a 20-7 record and cruising into the championship game of the Class 2 District 10 Tournament.
The fate came in the Bulldogs’ opponent in the district finals – Springfield Greenwood, the eventual state champions and recipient of a move-in before the season: 6-foot-4 uber-talent Aminu Mohammed.
Mohammed came in from the Washington, D.C. area and scored more than 1,000 points in just his sophomore season, being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in the process. Mohammed and the Bluejays pulled away in the second half for a 60-45 victory over Blue Eye, but it didn’t put a damper on the team’s achievements.
Blue Eye compiled a 41-13 record over the last two years, won a district title and saw Andrew Mitchell win two Tri-Lakes Player of the Year awards.
Despite seeing aggressive defensive pressure all season, Mitchell still averaged 17.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He will take his talents to College of the Ozarks, after leaving a permanent impression on the Blue Eye program.
“What he’s meant, he’s been the model of consistency for the last four years,” Blue Eye coach Kyle Turner said. “It’s something that’s obviously impossible to replace, and it’s meant a lot to our team and our community.”
Mitchell put his ability on display in the district semifinals against New Covenant Academy. He was scoreless going into the final minute, going 0-for-7 from the field. He made a 3-pointer to give Blue Eye the lead, then drained four free throws to seal the victory.
He will be difficult – if not impossible – to replace.
“His teammates have gone to him, and he’s set the tone from a leadership perspective,” Turner said. “He’s gotten up more shots over his whole career, he gets up early and comes in to shoot early in the morning this entire season.
“That sort of set the tone for his teammates, too.”
The boys’ and girls’ programs at Forsyth turned into a family affair this season, with Eric Rogers taking over the Panthers’ program. Spouse Amanda Rogers already was leading the Forsyth girls’ team.
It was a successful season on both sides. The Forsyth boys finished 14-12, losing five of their final six games and being eliminated by Forsyth in the opening round of the district tournament.
The season included a runner-up finish at the Forsyth Invitational and impressive victories over College Heights, Verona, Stockton and Blue Eye.
Senior Dawson Deroo was named to the all-area first team, and Trevor Turner will be back after making the all-area second team and averaging 12.8 points per game.
“We finished 14-12 on the season, and it was a starting point,” Eric Rogers said after the district loss. “We’re losing some good seniors, but we have a lot coming back. I think the hunger is there.
“Some of them are ready to get going again, and as coaches, we love to see that. We share that passion. We wish the best for our seniors and can’t wait to get started for next season.”
The Forsyth girls enjoyed some success of their own, finishing third at the Blue Eye Invitational and the Lady Lion Invitational in Mansfield, and winning the Galena Lady Bear Classic.
The Lady Panthers finished 15-11 and will return all-area first-teamer Scarlett Texeira (11.2 points, 9.5 rebounds per game) and second-teamer Emily Shipman (10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds per game).
“I think we exceeded expectations and exceeded goals, and now we’re going to have to set some new goals,” Mandy Rogers said. “People are going to come after us next year.
“We’re going to have to get better in the offseason and learn how to close out some games, because people are going to continue to get better and I hope we do, too.”
It was a season of building for the future for the Reeds Spring boys, who had to replace a ton of talent and experience going into the season.
Gone were varsity stalwarts Lane Carroll and post player Logen Plumb. The growing pains showed as the Wolves finished with a 6-19 record, but there are reasons for optimism for future years.
Sophomore Lance Hafar took a big step forward, as the 6-foot-6 post player averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He showed some range, too, stepping out to make 12 3-pointers.
The Reeds Spring girls were struck by a season-ending injury to Carley Reeves-Eakins for the second consecutive season.
The Lady Wolves finished 11-16, led by all-area first-teamer Kalena Asbill (16.5 points, 3.6 steals per game) and second-teamer Shelby Strailey (9.5 points, 6.4 rebounds per game).
SCHOOL OF THE OZARKS
Jack Carswell put up some impressive numbers as the top threat for the S of O boys’ team.
The senior averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range. He helped the Patriots finish 12-14 in a season that included quality victories over Spokane and Chadwick.
The S of O girls finished 6-19.
The inaugural season of girls’ wrestling in Missouri was one to remember for Branson High School and sophomore Erin Bohmont.
Bohmont finished with a 19-2 overall record and claimed a third-place medal in the 167-pound class at the state tournament. She won four of her five matches in Columbia, ending the day with a 6-0 decision over Lebanon’s Talora Frisbee to claim third.
Bohmont’s only loss at state was to DeSoto’s Jaycee Foeller, the eventual state champion.
It was an historic moment for Bohmont, and the Branson program as a whole.
The Branson boys sent three individuals to the state tournament, with junior Christian Cartwright winning three matches and finishing sixth at 120 pounds, junior Caden Lorenz splitting four matches at state in the 138-pound class, and Collin Andrews going 2-2 at 170 pounds.
Senior Dylan Barber posted the best state finish in Hollister school history, taking fourth place in the Class 2 285-pound bracket. Barber won three of five matches at state – two by fall and one by decision – and ended his senior season with a 43-14 individual record.
REEDS SPRING WRESTLING
Senior Clayton Johnson turned in an unforgettable end to a memorable season for the Wolves, finishing second in the state in Class 3 in the 170-pound weight class at the state tournament in Columbia.
Johnson won his first three matches at state to reach the finals, then lost to Buffalo’s Floyd Miller in the championship, leaving him with a 47-5 final record.
Johnson won his first two matches by fall, then claimed a decision in the semifinals to reach the title match. Teammates Eric Holt (132 pounds) and Tyler Nance (113) each qualified for state and went 1-2 in Columbia.
This is the second in a three-part series looking back on the 2018-19 school year in the Tri-Lakes area. Look for Part 3, encompassing the spring sports season, next week at bransontrilakesnews.com.