Southwest Missouri churns out championship-contending high school girls basketball teams on an annual basis and it should be no different heading into the 2023-24 season.
Fair Grove was the lone team from the area to win a title last season while several others made the championship game or qualified for the state semifinals.
Here are the teams we think have the best shot at making a deep run in 2023-24.
The Lady Tigers are due for a deep postseason run after last season was their first without a district title since 2010. There has been so much young talent on this team over the last two years that should have them in a position to be a championship contender come March.
Ellie Smith and Jacie Gavisk are the names you’ve gotten to know over the last two years as they’ve been among the best underclassmen in the state. That will continue this year under new head coach Darin Archer with several other returnees and a talented batch of freshmen that Walnut Grove churns out each season.
The Cardinals have won five straight district titles but have no trips to the state semifinals over the stretch. That could change over the next few seasons when Miller features a young roster that has a lot of talent.
Loghann Leivan and Ashlynn Helton are the featured sophomores on the team after breaking out as freshmen. The roster currently has no seniors with only a trio of juniors. This is going to be a young team but we saw how much of an impact the freshmen had last year and more upper-tier players will develop in the Miller program.
Fair Grove vs. Strafford winner in districts
Two programs that have proven to be capable of going on state championship runs over the last decade remain matched up in the same district. Fair Grove and Strafford will both be among the best teams in the area once again.
Fair Grove finally cracked through en route to winning its first state title last year and it returns all but one senior from its special season. Brooke Daniels and Ashton Bell remain two of the area’s best and will be the perfect duo to help new head coach Gary Greene get settled in.
Strafford will always be in the mix and it could reclaim its throne. Sophomore Elsie Larsen is coming off a great freshman season and the roster returns a senior standout in Lauren Jones. It’s a younger roster but it’s certainly capable of making a jump, maybe even past Fair Grove, this year.
El Dorado Springs
The Lady Bulldogs have made the state championship game in each of the last two years. It won it all in 2022 before falling to Fair Grove back in March.
El Dorado Springs will have to replace its star player, Macie Mays, who graduated but the program has been quick to replace its stars with new ones in recent years. Neely Schaaf appears to be next in line after averaging 11.4 points and 4.4 boards last season.
Winner of Class 5, District 6
A district that includes the likes of Marshfield, West Plains and Carl Junction is one to behold. The winner of this one will be battle-tested and look like one of the favorites to win a state championship. The latter two qualified for the state semifinals last year.
West Plains remains in a good position to go on a similar run with the return of Allyssa Joyner and Oliva Lawson. Lucy Hafer could develop into one of the better players in the Ozarks and you know head coach Scott Womack will have the Lady Zizzers playing their best basketball late in the year.
Carl Junction should be right there even following the departure of one of the best players in the area. New head coach Ryan Odaffer, the previous CJHS boys’ coach, has top-tier talents in Kylie Scott and Dezi Williams who are capable of leading the way for the Lady Bulldogs.
Marshfield is one you can’t fall asleep on. The Lady Jays haven’t won a district since 2014 but have been right there over the last three years having lost to great Rolla and West Plains squads. Lauren Luebbert and Abby McBride are among the best seniors in the area and it has a rising star in sophomore point guard Quinn Aldridge. This would be the best year for the Lady Jays to jump the teams that have had their numbers in recent years.
Winner of Class 6, District 5
After the graduations of a few of the district’s stars, Class 6, District 5 feels more wide-open than usual. The entire district is going to feel like it has a shot at winning it.
Republic, Kickapoo and Nixa have been the powers in this league for the last several seasons. The latter two have new head coaches with Leslie Hanchey’s promotion at Kickapoo and former Fair Grove head coach Jenny Talbert’s move to Nixa after winning a state title. Kickapoo has the most roster continuity while Nixa has a few up-and-comers who should be capable of making the Lady Eagles a challenger.
Republic, of course, lost Kaemyn Bekemeier to graduation and will have a lot of scoring to replace. It returns a few starters from last season and should never be counted out.
Outside of those three? Don’t fall asleep on Glendale as it’s in its second year under Matt Powell who led one of the best turnarounds you’ll see when the Lady Falcons went from 4-20 to 20-7 one year. Avery Givens and Maddy Zingg are names to know.
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at email@example.com or X at @WyattWheeler_NL. He’s also the host of the weekly “Wyatt’s World Podcast” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms