After taking fifth in last year’s McDonald’s Classic, the Smith-Cotton Lady Tigers girls basketball team comes into this tournament knowing it will be on the same court as teams like Hickman, Parkview, Rolla and Nixa.
“It’s going to be tough, but I think we’re going to come out and play hard,” said Smith-Cotton guard Kirby Lewellyn. “It’s going to be some good competition, so we’ve got to get a big crowd because I know that will pump us up a lot.”
Hickman enters the tournament 14-0. Parkview is 9-4 and Nixa is 7-4. Of those teams, Smith-Cotton is only guaranteed to play Parkview, its first-round foe, but will have a chance to see teams like Hickman and Nixa.
“Getting them to just see that level of competition and getting them to compete at that level and continuing to see how fundamentally sound they are and how they play good defense” will be a learning experience, Smith-Cotton coach Zach Vandevender.
“They’re very good defensively and they get up and pressure us and push the ball well,” Lewellyn said.
Smith-Cotton’s game with Parkview, of Springfield, is a rematch of a first-round game in the 2013 tournament. In last year’s first-round game at the McDonald’s Classic, the Lady Tigers led Parkview 14-11 before it closed the second quarter on a 16-0 run, fueled mostly by 6-1 forward Aubrey Buckley. Buckley is back this season, averaging 20.5 points and nine rebounds per game.
“She likes to catch it up high and down low,” said Smith-Cotton forward Abby Perkins. “You just can’t let her catch it. Don’t let her get the ball.”
Vandevender is not spending a lot of time thinking about that 2013 game because only two of his current players played in it. This year, S-C is a whole new team and is thinking about how it matches up with the Lady Vikings this year before it turns its focus on who it might play Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve already seen a couple of teams in the tournament, so we already know where we’re at in terms of Rolla and Center,” Vandevender said. “Our focus is Parkview right now and getting through that first round.”
Smith-Cotton faced Center in West Central Conference play and fell to Rolla in Rolla’s holiday tournament last month. The Lady Tigers lost that game, but bounced back to win the next two tournament games, giving them a sense of what tournament basketball is all about. They opened the season with Marshall’s tournament, going 0-3 with losses to Eldon, Sacred Heart and Windsor.
“Back-to-back games are a lot different,” Perkins said. “You don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare for the next game. You just have to jump in and play your best.”
The Lady Tigers enter the tournament coming off a 62-22 loss to Lee’s Summit North. But before that, they pulled out a win over Marshall and fell to Center 36-34. In two conference games this year, the Lady Tigers are 0-2, but those losses have been by a combined five points.
“Our practice mindset and the hard work in practice is one thing that has contributed to us improving,” Vandevender said. “We had a setback with Lee’s Summit North, but they continue to come in and work hard in practice, and we’ll see it carry over to games.”
“Our goal is to improve every day and at every practice, and we definitely are,” Perkins said. “It’s really coming together well.”