By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For a decade now the Carl Junction girls basketball team has been one of the best programs in southwest Missouri.
The Bulldogs have won six straight district championships and made three trips to the Final Four, finishing second in 2018, and followed that up with an undefeated 28-0 record in 2019-20 before the postseason was canceled amid the pandemic.
Since head coach Brad Shorter returned to Carl Junction in 2014 after a six-year stint at Webb City, the Bulldogs have averaged more than 23 wins per season, and that includes an 18-9 record last year.
“Honestly I think it probably went better than expected record-wise,” Shorter said. “Every year it seems like we have an injury that makes it a little more difficult for us and having an injury to Kylie Scott midway through the season was tough, but our kids responded. With our youth going into the year we kind of looked at it like a rebuilding type year but our kids responded very well to the challenge and I feel like we progressed quite a bit as the year moved on.”
The Bulldogs return about four starters this winter and would have five if not for a season-ending injury to senior Jessa Hylton, an honorable mention All-Conference player in the Central Ozark Conference who also nabbed All-District honors. She averaged 9.7 points per game last year along with 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals.
“She brings so much athleticism to our team and so much energy,” Shorter said. “That’s going to be very difficult to replace. She brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our group and she’ll still be able to do that just from a different role, from a seat as opposed to the floor. I hate it for her but we’ve got to find somebody that will step up and take on that role and be able to fill that void.”
The team’s other returning starters bring plenty to the table, though. It starts with junior Destiny Buerge, who finished a stellar sophomore campaign with some impressive honors. She was the district player of the year, a unanimous selection on the All-COC team and was named to the Class 5 All-State team after averaging 24.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 4.3 steals. She scored a season-high 48 against Webb City in February and had five other games with at least 30 points. She had at least 10 rebounds in three games, and even recorded 13 steals against Neosho.
DOWNLOAD THE O-ZONE APP NOW!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR APPLE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR ANDROID
“I think she’s one of the better players in the area,” Shorter said. “She’s just a scorer. She always has been. She’s had some different roles over the last couple years. Freshman year I asked her to distribute a little bit more and be in that point guard type role and she was able to do that and score. Last year she was asked to really score at a higher clip and she certainly did that. She’s someone we can lean on in tough situations but at the same time our other kids are getting more and more valuable experience and feel more confident in some of the things they can do.”
Junior Hali Shorter returns to the starting lineup after averaging 5.6 points, four rebounds, three assists and better than one steal per game. She twice scored 15 in a game, including in a three-point win over Webb City for the district championship.
“She’s capable of making some shots,” Shorter said. “She’s not necessarily a scorer but a shooter and it’s nice having that coaching feel on the floor with her. She has great patience about her and keeps things at an even keel which is very valuable for our team.”
Senior Ellie Lawson appeared in all 27 games and made her way into the starting lineup after the injury to Scott. She averaged 2.7 rebounds and a steal per game. Shorter said she’s one of the hardest workers he’s ever coached.
“She’s a very responsible kid that will take on her role, whatever it may be, and you’ve got to have kids like that to be successful as a team. She and Hali are in combination kind of the glue for our group.”
Scott, a sophomore, only played in half the team’s games last year before suffering an injury but was impressive in her limited time. She was an All-District player who averaged 8.9 points and nine rebounds per game while also blocking more than a shot per contest. She’s the third sibling from a “very good basketball family.” Her older sister Kylie was the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and played her freshman college season at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix before transferring to Oral Roberts.
“She’s got so much potential and she was really coming on last year before she broke her wrist,” Shorter said. “She was really understanding the flow of a high school basketball game, the physicality, the work that has to go into it and we were loving to see her progress. I hope she picks up where she left off. She had a really good summer and can score from the outside and in so we want to be able to utilize her.”
Junior Klohe Burk started at times last season and poses another scoring threat from the outside. She’s also got the ability to drive to the basket. She averaged 9.4 points and two rebounds per game as a sophomore.
“What really makes Klohe go is her defensive aggressiveness,” Shorter said. “She forced a couple turnovers late in the game against Webb City and gave us the opportunity to score on our end. I think she’s going to continue to gel more and more with us.”
Other returning contributors include sophomore Anna Burch, a “headsy player” that appeared in all 27 games and offers inside scoring ability. Sophomore Hailey Merwin appeared in eight games and is another really athletic player. Loren Lee is a senior who played in seven games and offers rebounding and the ability to play at the post.
The Bulldogs also have a handful of varsity newcomers, including one senior and several freshmen and sophomores, who could earn minutes this season.
Carl Junction will play in a jamboree at Webb City on Nov. 16 with McDonald County and Mt. Vernon. The team opens with the CJ Classic beginning Nov. 29 and will return to the Border Classic in Pittsburg, Kan. and also play in the Hall of Fame Classic at Bolivar.