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by Mark Cheffey
Kelsey Stuart takes over as the new PHS girls basketball coach and immediately inherited a talented and experienced squad hungry to go to the next level.
The Lady Panthers went 21-7 last season but lost to South Shelby in the district title game. And almost all of the key players are back for another run.
“When asked, all of the girls are hungry to win the tournaments we are scheduled in and to be successful in the post-season by winning districts. None of these girls have experienced that before,” Stuart said, as the team prepares to open the season Nov. 28.
And the team Stuart has coming back this year has talent, athleticism, leadership and the tools needed to play well at all facets of the game.
Returning are all state post player, Candra King, a senior, all-district selections Sydney Compton and Clare Williams, both juniors and fellow all-conference player, Taytum White, a senior.
Also coming back with varsity experience are seniors Alaina Loman, Jaelyn Chandler, Ashley Bode, Avery Compton and Bella McBride.
“The lineup you have is a good one, and we have a deep bench of 12 girls on the roster,” Stuart said. “Each night might be different depending on our opponent. The girls know that starting spots are earned and they have to work hard to get that.”
Rounding out the 19-member varsity/junior varsity teams are sophomores, Ava Fohey, Jerzey Ramey, and Alyssa Lee; and freshmen, Charli Martin, Marney Plunkett, Riley Sutter, Jenna Webb, Shelby Harris and Ana James.
King, with Bode backing up, are expected to give Palmyra a strong presence in the paint again this season.
“It’s great to have height that can play outside as well,” Stuart said. “They both have great footwork and play good defense, which will help us be successful.”
Compton, Williams and White proved to be strong shooters and play-makers and are expected to continue their progress this season.
“The girls can shoot the ball; but they have other great strengths, such as their ability to finish inside and their transition offense and ball movement,” said Stuart, who is also excited about the team’s overall leadership.
“A lot of the girls are natural-born leaders, which is great to have on a team,” Stuart said. “It’s them finding that balance with all these leadership qualities and learning how to work together.”
Stuart said she brings in a some new perspectives and style of play for the team.
“The girls are learning new skills and concepts offensively as well as a new defense philosophy,” she said.
Part of her overall philosophy is about developing athletes well rounded on and off the court.
“By creating a positive culture that energizes and encourages each other, prioritizes connected relationships and great teamwork, we will have confidence knowing these young ladies will be better prepared for events that happen on and off the court, and into their adult life,” Stuart said.
And, she was able to start getting acquainted with her team and the team with her during the summer.
“This summer was a lot of fun with getting to know the girls and going to places to see them compete against some really great teams,” Stuart said. “Playing against some tough competition was something we needed in order to improve our game.”
Last year’s team went 6-1 in the Clarence Cannon Conference last season, second only to South Shelby, and the team wants to get the crown this time around.
“This whole area of Missouri is really competitive, but with hard work and continuation of full effort and becoming a positive team, it is possible to make this happen,” Stuart said.
And, a district title re-match could happen with South Shelby also in Class 3, District 6 along with Clark County, Highland, Louisiana, Mark Twain and Monroe City.
Stuart already has a non-conference game she’s looking forward to for her team and herself.
On Dec. 29, the Lady Panthers will participate in the Twelve Courts of Christmas at Kansas City’s HyVee Arena where they will take on Oak Grove, a school right down I-70 from where she grew up in Concordia, Mo.
“It is a game that is closer to home for my family to come watch and support the girls,” Stuart said.
Her basketball career at Concordia High School included three district titles, her sophomore, junior and senior year under the coaching of Bill Hughes, now the coach at Wellington-Napoleon.
“While going to school there, our girls basketball team was known in the area for being a good, competitive program,” Stuart said.
After graduating from the University of Central Missouri, Stuart had her sights on coaching.
“I’ve always loved the game and have always gravitated towards a leadership role,” Stuart said. “I was given the opportunity to coach fifth/sixth graders in my early 20s and have been coaching ever since.
“I love the relationships you build with your players and the many life skills that come with the game as well.”
Stuart came to the east side of the state for a change in her career.
“This area of Missouri interested me, and once I heard the position was open, I applied immediately,” Stuart said. “Palmyra reminded me a lot of my hometown, a small, supportive community that valued girls basketball and has a winning tradition, and I hope to make this home for me and my son.”
Stuart is assisted this season by PHS alum, Nicole Kroeger, and Kaitlin Benson, an alum of Highland High School.
11/28 Mark Twain
12/4-9 M.C. Tournament
12/12 at QND
12/15 at Unity (lll.)
12/19 at Louisiana
12/29 at KC Shootout
1/1-6 Highland Tourn.
1/9 at Kirksville
1/12 at Centralia
1/15-20 Lenzini Tourn.
1/23 at Brookfield
1/30 at Clark County
2/2 South Shelby
2/6 at Monroe City
2/8 Bowling Green
2/13 at Hannibal
2/19-24 Districts TBA