Winter sports preview for 2022-23 basketball season

Mt. Vernon Mt’neers
Coach: Mike Ray (122-79), seventh season
2021-2022 record: 9-18
Players lost to graduation: Kai Brown, Sam Herbert, Dominic Dawson, Tristan Jones  
Returning players: Jarrett Zerby, Clayton Turner
Upcoming players:  Caleb Rinker, Julian Hernandez, Grayson Gann, Braxton Horton, Landon Jones
Outlook: This is going to be a very interesting season for the Mt’neers. For the first time in recent memory, Mt. Vernon will be without a true alpha player. With the departure of Mason Ballay and Kai Brown the last two years, coach Mike Ray will look for a new core to lean on next season. It will be led by two returners, senior Clayton Turner, and sophomore Jarrett Zerby and up-and-coming senior Caleb Rinker. The rest of the squad will be filled in by a strong sophomore and junior class led by Julian Hernandez, Grayson Gann, Braxton Horton and Landon Jones. In a competitive Big 8 once again, it will be a quick test for these Mt’neers to get early experience in hostile environments.
Dates to watch: 12/20 at Fair Grove, 12/26-29 Blue and Gold, 1/27 vs. Aurora
Worth noting: The Mt’neers will be behind the eight ball compared to the last few years, as district football held several key pieces from the first couple weeks of practice. While the Mt’neers are no strangers to success on the gridiron affecting the first few weeks of practice on the hardwood, without a true returning core, it could make the first few weeks of the season more difficult than in years past.
Coach Ray says: “We really don’t know what to expect. There are a lot of question marks and that makes you a little uncomfortable but it’s exciting. Nine of our top 10 guys are still on the football field so we haven’t had the opportunity to work with them a whole lot. I think by the time February hits, we will have hit our stride and like last year be ready to be a tough out for anyone come districts.”
Mt. Vernon Lady Mt’neers
Coach: Grant Berendt (123-66), fourth year at Mt. Vernon
2021-2022 record: 14-12, lost district championship to Cassville
Players lost to graduation: Cameryn Cassity, Raegan Boswell, Jolie Prescott
Returning players: Cheyenne Bieber, Harley Daniels
Upcoming players: Addie Hall, Audrey Bittle, Madison Rinker, Teagyn Huver
Outlook: Welcome to the next era of Lady Mt’neer basketball. The eight-man rotation that coach Berendt rode to a state runner up just two years ago are all not on the team anymore. This opens up an exciting time as now the youth movement begins. Senior Harley Daniels and sophomore Cheyenne Bieber will be the veterans with significant varsity experience. They will rely on a healthy dose of contributions from a deep sophomore class. Addie Hall, Audrey Bittle and Madison Rinker led the JV squad a year ago and will continue to be leaned on this year at the varsity level.
Dates to watch: 12/6 vs. Cassville, 12/26-29 Pink and White Tournament, 1/12 at Clever, 2/6 vs. Aurora
Worth noting: All eyes have been on sensational sophomore Cheyenne Bieber. She was a breakout, three-sport letterman as a freshman and after taking a huge leap on the volleyball court, she will look to do the same on the hardwood. She was named to the Class 3 All-State volleyball team and took a major leadership role there and now will be thrusted into the on-court vocal leadership position this winter as well. She is poised to have a monster season and is sure to turn some heads.
Coach Berendt says: “We return no starters but four lettermen. I would say we are fairly inexperienced, but with the group of seniors last year, there just wasn’t many minutes to go around. But we wear a green and white uniform that says Mt. Vernon and a very decorated program so we have high expectations. In a year like this, I expect to compete. I don’t care if we are playing eight freshman, our expectations are to compete and I would expect that the team you see in November and December won’t be the same team you see in February.”
Aurora Houn’ Dawgs
Coach: Adam Thornhill (150-216), fourth season at Aurora    
2021-2022 record: 19-8, lost to Seneca in districts
Players lost to graduation: Jaesik Friggle, Cameron Savage, Sage Welch
Returning players: Hayze Hoffman, Trandan Darnall, Kelton Brown, Daunte Floyd
Upcoming players: Kohen Abramovitz, Cannon Thornhill, Landon Boatwright, Clayton Jaramillo, Jaden Carpenter, Thomas Laura
Outlook:  This may be one of the deepest rosters in the Big 8 this year. While they will miss the scoring ability of Jaesik Friggle and Sage Welch, and the physicality of Cameron Savage, they will more than make up for it with sheer number of good basketball players. Coach Thornhill has done a tremendous job of creating a program that is sustainable and the runnin’ Dawgs will be back at it.
Four major pieces return for their senior run with Kelton Brown and Trandan Darnall running the guard positions. Then 6’7” Hayze Hoffman and 6’6” Daunte Floyd will combine for one of the most athletic and tallest posts in southwest Missouri. Floyd really took the next step athletically with a tremendous season on the football field, and the QB/WR combo of Brown and Floyd will look to connect once again with maybe a few more long range connections. Some of the up and coming talent will be just as exciting starting with coach’s son Cannon Thornhill. Other names to watch will be Kohen Abramovitz, and a solid sophomore class led by Landon Boatwright, Clayton Jaramillo and Jaden Carpenter.
Dates to watch: 11/28-12/3 Clever Tournament, 12/26-29 Blue and Gold, 1/24 at Willard, 1/27 at Mt. Vernon
Worth noting: The depth on this team will be the overwhelming strength. Despite losing two college basketball caliber players in Welch and Aurora’s all-time leading scorer Friggle, Thornhill has managed to put a roster together that will more than make up. With the ability to plug and play 8-12 guys, expect the runnin’ Dawgs to play at a cheetah’s pace once again.
Coach Thornhill says: “I was really nervous come the first day of practice and was unsure what to expect, but practices have gone very well and now I am really excited. We have the ability to pick up right where we left off last year and I think we can do just as good as that 19-8 record we had. It will just take leadership from the right guys and I think they can step up.”

Aurora Lady Houn’ Dawgs
Coach: Jason Cole, first year
2021-2022 record: 13-14
Returning players: Ellie Creasey, Payden Blevins, Maci Montgomery, Makena Hall
Upcoming players: Kylee Cole, Alyssa Burch, Jaelyn Ernest
Outlook: With a new head guy, Aurora looks to build off a 13-14 year that showed promise for this season. Back once again are All-Big 8 East selections and senior leaders Ellie Creasey and Payden Blevins, who will once again shoulder most of the workload. Creasey was a first-team selection averaging 13 points per game a year ago. Blevins will look to continue her role as a presence as a ball-handler, and rebounding the ball after averaging 10 points and six rebounds last season. Makena Hall and Maci Montgomery also look to factor in with an increased role. Sophomore transfer, and coach Cole’s daughter, Kylee Cole will also look to slide in and make a difference early on after leading East Newton to 14 wins a year ago.
Dates to watch: 12/27-31 Pink and White, 1/23-28 Mansfield tournament, 2/6 at Mt. Vernon
Miller Cardinals
Coach: Brandon Weiss, first year
2021-2022 record: 8-19, lost to College Heights in district semifinals
Players lost to graduation: Brenden Thom, Logan Nield, Kaleb Groesbeck
Returning players: Owen Pritchett, Alex Pennington, Garrett Stewart,
Upcoming players: Jarod Lung, Owen Weiss, John Snider
Outlook: There is a new, but familiar head coach in Cardinal nation. Brandon Weiss returns to Miller after leading the Lady Cardinals to success in the early 2010’s. Weiss will have his hands full after losing a trio of seniors and a fairly inexperienced squad. Seniors Alex Pennington, Owen Pritchett and Garrett Stewart will be two of the older guys who will look to break out this year, but Jarod Lung and freshman transfer Owen Weiss will shoulder a lot of the scoring responsibilities. Another name to look out for is sophomore wing John Snider, who is long and athletic enough to potentially create some issues off the bench. This will be a season that will be headlined by transition, after the departure of coach Sean Price, but coach Weiss is a great fit for this program and will be in line to get the Cardinals back in the district title hunt.
Dates to watch: 12/6 at Verona, 12/21-31 Walnut Grove Tournament, 2/14 vs. Marionville
Worth noting: Coach Weiss is back in Miller following several coaching stops on the girl’s side of things. Since his third place finish with the Hannah Wilkerson-led Lady Cardinals in 2010, Weiss has had moderately successful stints at Exeter, Clever and Verona, among others. This will be his first taste of the boy’s game in over 10 years, but his demeanor and culture should fit the boy’s game even better.
Coach Weiss says: “We want them to really buy into the culture we are trying to set. We have set a culture of working hard and earning everything and I want to establish it this year and it will pay off. If it doesn’t pay off this year, it will next year.” 
Miller Lady Cardinals
Coach: Ryan White, first season
2021-2022 record: 23-4 lost to Blue Eye in sectionals
Players lost to graduation: Claudia Hadlock, Kaylee Helton, Payten Richardson
Returning players: Haylie Schnake, Rose Hill, Hailey Mart
Upcoming players: Ashlynn Helton, Kendall Neely, Loghann Leivan, Camden Stockton, Rachel Nunez
Outlook: What a run these Lady Cardinals have been on. Four straight district titles on the hardwood and add in four straight district titles and three straight Final Fours on the volleyball court, as well. The Lady Cardinals will look to pick up where they left off once again with another deep roster. Seniors Haylie Schnake, Rose Hill and Hailey Mart all return from last year’s 23-4 team that nearly knocked off a top-ranked Republic team. Schnake will have to step up into the primary scoring role and open up outside opportunities and cutting opportunities for everyone else. What makes this team intriguing this season is the depth that they should have coming into this year. Sophomore Kendall Neely should see the floor more this year and provide a much needed post presence. The freshman class has the makings for the next great basketball class led by Loghann Leivan, Camden Stockton, Rachel Nunez and Kaylee Helton’s sister Ashlynn.
Dates to watch: 12/6 at Fair Grove, 12/19 at Mansfield, 12/21-30 Walnut Grove Tournament, 2/14 vs. Marionville
Worth noting: This senior class has seven district titles between basketball and volleyball, and even a volleyball state championship. They sit at 75-12, and a 22-win season will put them as the winningest class in Miller history. Even this highly anticipated freshman class knows what it takes having success on the AAU circuit and posting a perfect 10-0 record last year in junior high.
Coach White says: “My expectation is to continue the rich tradition here. Miller has a very good girls basketball program. We lost three tremendous players last year but we don’t want to pretend we are in a rebuild. We think we have the pieces still in tact to keep competing and I am holding myself and the girls to that standard this year.”


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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