Dec. 1—CARL JUNCTION, Mo. — The Carl Junction girls basketball team has opened its season with two wins in its home tournament.
The Bulldogs began the CJ Classic with a 53-39 win over Neosho on Monday night. On Tuesday, Carl Junction outlasted Springdale, Arkansas, 62-58. Those two wins have the Bulldogs in the championship game at 8:30 Thursday against Nevada.
Head coach Brad Shorter believes his team's experience is a big part of its 2-0 start.
"The last month of practice has been exceptional," Shorter said. "We're ahead of where we've been in past years. Our kids having the experience and being in the program for as long as they have and knowing, one, what we expect of them, but, two, what we're trying to accomplish, is a bit of a head start for us."
Carl Junction has four returning starters from its 2021 campaign and players with prior varsity experience coming off of the bench as well. Those returning starters are seniors Destiny Buerge, Klohe Burk, Hali Shorter and junior Kylie Scott. Sophomore Dezi Williams has joined that bunch to complete the Bulldogs' starting five.
Shorter also mentioned having players who have stepped up to take on key roles coming off the bench. Some of those players are senior Allie Wrestler, junior Anna Burch, sophomore Shaye Buerge and freshman Jadyn Howard. That ability to step up and take on that extra responsibility was made possible by the leadership and experience within the team.
"We have a freshman (and) a couple of sophomores that are getting quite a bit of time at the varsity level," Shorter said. "Having some of these seniors, and juniors even, help direct them and mentor them has been a super valuable piece for our program."
Shorter added that his upperclassmen do a good job guiding their peers by giving them a scouting report on an opponent or by helping them understand what the coach is asking of them during a practice.
Shorter credits the team success to that athlete-on-athlete mentoring.
With the early success, there have been some things that stood out to Shorter as what he considers "November basketball." Outside of Scott, who tallied 20 rebounds in the semifinal game, he said he would like to see better rebounding. Another thing the team is focusing on now is sharper passes and trying to stay crisp on deliveries. One thing that he's noticed in the first two games is turnovers.
After only 10 in Game 1 against Neosho, Shorter said that jumped to "quite a few more" against Springdale the next night. He knows it can be sloppy at times and that his team still needs to get their legs under them.
"Our kids realizing and seeing that we need to be able to play at a good, strong, quick pace, but being able to be under control and patient and have enough poise about us is important," Shorter added.
What better way to do that than to work out the kinks in an early season tournament?
"We've been able to see two great teams in Neosho and Springdale and, obviously, we're going to see an exceptional team in Nevada," Shorter said. "It's hard to simulate game speed in practice, it really is. So, being able to have three quick games here is good for our basketball legs to help us get in shape and get to where we need to be."
The Bulldogs will cap off the tournament against the Tigers Thursday. Shorter is looking at the two guards from Nevada in Clara Swearingen and Madyson Majors. Inside, he knows Abigail Heathman will be a threat. Defending the outside shooting and not allowing second chances are keys to the game for the Bulldogs.
Nevada defeated Parkview 61-55 in the semifinal round and topped McDonald County 54-27 in the opening round.