By Jason Hoekema
The Lady Bears finished at 14-10 in the regular season, 14-11 overall with their final loss in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3, District 11 playoff tournament to Fair Grove High School on Feb. 19. The girls’ bench finished 3-5 in the South Central Association Conference, the out-right winner of the conference was the Liberty-Mountain View Lady Eagles.
The Lady Bears, as a team, averaged 52 points-per-game, scoring 1,300 total points this season and allowed an average of 47.6 points-per-game.
Their longest win streak was four games, opening the season with victories over Hollister, Conway, Seymour, and Billings before dropping a game to New Covenant on Dec. 6, 2018.
The longest losing streak endured by the Lady Bears also measured four games with losses to Forsyth, Mansfield, Willow Springs, and Thayer. A 66-52 win over Cabool at their own tournament broke the streak, where the Lady Bears took first place.
SETTING THE STANDARD
The Lady Bears are losing four senior players this year and it is important to highlight the impact their leadership has had on the upcoming classes of talented players. After some not-so-successful seasons, these four are the bedrock foundation that the underclassmen will continue to build on for Ava High School.
Senior Ashton Bewley led the Lady Bears in scoring with an average of 17.2 points-per-game, sinking buckets for 430 points and reaching her 1,000-point milestone on Feb. 7 while shooting a free throw in the fourth quarter against Bradleyville in the Ava High School gymnasium.
She was named the all-tournament MVP of the inaugural Cabool Bulldog Classic where the Lady Bears had a first-round bye and wins over Cabool (66-52) and Koshkonong (66-46) to secure the top-tier trophy.
Bewley shot for 58-percent from the free-throw line, making 114 free-throw attempts, and hit more than 125 twos and 22 threes in her final season and set a career-high of 28 points in a single game. Bewley also made a total of 119 rebounds this season.
Senior Lauren Mendel was the team’s second-highest scorer with a total of 224 points in her final high school season, scoring an average of 8.96 points-per-game. Shooting 92 field goals and four threes this season, she also shot at 52-percent from the line, making 28 points on the opponents’ charity.
She was named to the Cabool Bulldog Classic All-Tournament Team as a pivotal force under the bucket with twos in the post and the rebounds to match.
Senior Emily Stillings does more than shoot buckets, much of which doesn’t always show up in the scorebook. Offensively, she added 38 points to the 1,300 made by the team but was instrumental in starting plays and forcing turnovers which led to many of the points scored by her teammates.
She made 34 deflections and picked-off the ball for 36 steals.
Stillings was solid at the free-throw stripe, shooting at the highest percentage of the team. At 88-percent for 14 extra points, the pressure at the stripe did not bother her much.
Senior Araina Evans was also consistent at the stripe, shooting 74-percent through the season for 14 bonus points. She contributed 66 points to the Lady Bear offense and made 68 rebounds and play breaks for the team.
The seniors, according to coach Nathan Houk, laid-out the foundation for this team to continue building on.
In the top three scorers of this season is freshman Hanna Evans with 179 points in her name, scoring an average of 7.16 points-per-game and was second to Bewley in threes with 16 of her own. She has shot more than 28 two-pointers and made 35 from the line, shooting 67-percent this season.
Junior Claire Fossett is expected to return in a leadership role after she shot for 183 points, with an average of 7.32 points-per-game. She shot for 56-percent from the line, earning 33 freebies for the Lady Bears and was also a key player mid-court for turnovers with 36 deflections and 25 steals.
Eden Little usually had the first hands on the ball after a rebound or turnover. Her position at as a point guard, attempting to swing the opposing defense back-and-forth to make an opening, is vital in fueling the Lady Bear offense.
She is a player that not only gets things going and communicates play-actions to the team and if the lane comes open, she can drive it. With 36 twos and another 21 points on fouls-drawn, Little has contributed 108 points to the season’s tally.
Little was also credited with 55 assists and 67 steals.
Younger players don’t always hit the maple on the varsity roster in their first year. If they do, they are often subbing for starters and other power players. It is a rite of passage as they learn who to mesh into their own roles in a five-player game. However, there are freshman standouts from this year to look out for next season in addition to Hanna Evans.
Lauren Hall plays up-front on the JV squad and has been useful to the Lady Bears when legs get tired or the pace needs to change. With her limited playing time as a varsity player, she was able to score 24 points and may be expected to have more time on the maple in the coming years.
Emaly Keyes is another new face in the Ava gym but will likely become a force to be reckoned with on the perimeter. As she continues to mature in game play, her ability to shoot threes may also increase after shooting 12 this year on varsity playing time.
Julia Henry is another player to be on the lookout for after she chipped-in 20 points this season and made 17 rebounds.