By Eric Wade
Nevada Daily Mail
Confidence. In high school sports in general, but especially in girls' sports, it can be the most difficult thing to come by, yet at the same time, the single most important key to success.
This year's Nevada Lady Tigers basketball has plenty of reasons to lack confidence after losing two key players to last year's graduation in Tiffani Long and Bailey Harbit, injuries to key returning players and what many would consider low overall numbers, but head coach Brent Bartlett said his squad hasn't let any of that get to them. Bartlett said the Lady Tigers have spent the majority of the 15 practices they'd had through Thursday working hard and that has kept confidence and aggression high heading into the new season.
"If you're a hard worker, I think you gain confidence," Bartlett said. "If you can make practices hard and you work hard, it makes playing in a game just an instinct. That's what we try to do."
The Lady Tigers finished last season with an overall record of 15-13 after a 42-26 loss in the district championship game to the Chicks of Pleasant Hill High School. In the game that ultimately brought the season to a close, Pleasant Hill used its tough full-court press defense to force Nevada into 20 turnovers and never allowed the Lady Tigers to get comfortable offensively.
The Lady Tigers won't see Pleasant Hill in district competition this year and Bartlett hopes to put that season-ending defeat behind him and move on to what he believes can be a very productive 2012-'13 season. That won't be an easy thing to do, however, as the Lady Tigers are faced with what Bartlett called the toughest schedule he has ever seen in the regular season.
"Here's the thing, our schedule is as tough as I've ever, ever in the 16 years I've been the head coach, ever have seen it," he said. That tough regular season schedule includes the Carthage and Harrisonville tournaments that always feature tough competition, as well as matchups against Webb City and defending Class 4 State Champion Republic -- the team that's favored to win it all this season -- as well as Carthage and Springfield Kickapoo.
The Lady Tigers certainly won't have any cupcake games come district tournament time, either, as they will be pegged against the likes of Carl Junction, Carthage, McDonald County, Monett and Webb City in the Class 4, District 12 tournament. Bartlett stressed early this week that he wants to make sure his players can execute at the highest level possible at the right times and can stay healthy, as well as consistently win the rebound battle throughout the year in an effort to remain competitive with some of those top-tier squads.
"When you play good teams, you have to do everything correctly to be successful," he said.
The Lady Tigers had several freshmen on the varsity squad last year, giving them a solid core of returning players to build upon this year. Of those returning players, however, two are still somewhat questionable heading into the season.
Tori Dahmer, a 5-foot-11-inch senior, had surgery last spring to repair an Achilles tendon injury and though she is still limited in what she can do at this point, Bartlett is confident she will be ready to play when the season starts. "Tori Dahmer, she had surgery last spring. I've been real pleased with how she's moving and getting her strength back," he said. "It's still painful, the Achilles tendon, that area, but she's really come on strong here the last month."
The other question mark on this year's squad is next to the name of Mikayla Bartlett. Last season, Bartlett went down in the district championship game with what turned out to be a torn ACL and meniscus in her knee.
Since the injury, Bartlett has suffered a stress fracture in her tibia and had another surgery four weeks ago to repair a tear in her meniscus. The elder Bartlett said she has been able to return to practice and could start taking contact as early as next week.
"She's had all kinds of setbacks," Bartlett said of the 5-6 sophomore guard. "She's really, the last few days, been coming on strong and that's what we want to see."
Also back for the Lady Tigers is 6-1 sophomore Rilie Good, giving Dahmer some much-needed help in the post with her size and aggression. Bartlett said having the size of Dahmer and Good inside will be a major asset, but both players had foul trouble last year, which will be a major focal point in Bartlett's efforts to make improvements to what he believes is already a very strong team.
Also coming back for this season are 5-7 senior Ashley Shumaker, 5-5 senior Mackenzie Pritchett and 5-6 sophomore Morgan McNeley. The rest of the roster will include newcomers Victoria Culbertson, Nikiya Feezell and Michaela Brewer.
Bartlett said his new and returning players have come together very well thus far and are continuously getting better and gaining more confidence as preseason activities progress. "The girls we've got have been working hard," he said. "The hardest thing to do is getting in shape, I mean, no one likes that."
The Lady Tigers don't have much longer to wait and see if their efforts to create a winning combination will pay off as they are scheduled to start the regular season next week. The Lady Tigers will open the season on Tuesday, Nov. 20, on the road at Archie High School in a JV/varsity doubleheader that is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
After the Archie game, the Lady Tigers will take the rest of the week off before returning to action at the Carl Junction tournament Nov. 26-Dec. 1, at Carl Junction High School.