#2 Big 8 here we come….

We are up what I ranked as the #2 sports story of 2016.  Perhaps this should be #1?

2- Goodbye COC- Hello Big 8

This one is so recent you would not have to look very far back to see my original story on it.

For  a couple of years we have known that the Small Central Ozarks Conference was on it last legs.  At the end of last school year the announcements that Hollister and Buffalo had given notice that they were leaving.  That pretty much ended any small chance of survival.

The speculations flew for a while, what would happen to the schools?  Where would they go?  There were talks of forming a new conference.  But noting solid ever came of it.

Buffalo joined the newly formed Ozarks Highlands Conference.  Hollister had discussions about the possibility of finding another league but were prepared to go at it as an independent if necessary.  They still held hope that something would be worked out.

In mid to late fall the Big Eight Conference started exploring expansion possibilities.  Not sure many at the time saw this big of a thing coming..

In December it was announced that Reeds Spring, Hollister, Springfield Catholic, Marshfield, and Logan-Rogersville would join the new Big Eight along with Nevada.  The move leaves only Bolivar without a league to call home.

It looks like the fourteen team league will be split into two divisions: east and west.  The five former COC schools will join Aurora and Mt Vernon in the east while Nevada joins Lamar, East Newton, Monett, McDonald County, Cassville, and Seneca in the west.

The scheduling decisions are yet to be made and meetings are set for January to begin to hammer that out.  But, the league is set to go, as all school boards have given approval.

Its a new day for high school sports in southwest Missouri.  The New League will begin play in the 2018-2019 school year.

The Wolves and Tigers will continue to play in the COC the remainder of this school year and all of next year.


#3 Turf for Wolves and Tigers

We are almost there.  Only three stories left.

3- Reeds Spring and Hollister get Artificial Turf

Within less than 24 hours Reeds Spring and Hollister both announced that they would be installing artificial turf.  Two different situations that ended with two incredible fields.

Reeds Spring was in dire need of something to be done with the playing surface.  Despite a really nice stadium, the field itself was among the worst in southwest Missouri. So bad in fact, that a home playoff game had to be moved to a neutral site a few years ago.  Enter Pro Football Hall of Fame President/Executive Director David Baker.  Baker had a relationship with the school after a speaking engagement for the schools Foundation.  He was able to set them up with the University of Cincinnati, who despite having new turf themselves was going to have to make a change to accommodate the soccer team they share the field with.

It was  great deal for both sides.  Reeds Spring would get the highest level of turf on the market and get it a greatly reduced price.  And the University would be able to unload the surface they no longer had a use for.

For some of us it was almost like a child waiting on Christmas morning as the process of preparing the ground and then laying the turf down took place.  The result was an absolutely incredible place for the Wolves to call home.

Hollister, meanwhile, had what I considered to be the best playing surface that I see all year.  There is not a level of football anywhere that would not have been pleased to play on that field.  That is  tribute to the hard work done by the guys that take care of all the fields in the school system.

That being said, Hollister Superintendent, Dr Brian Wilson and the Hollister Community wanted even better for the students.  At the request of Dr Wilson and Coach Jacob Hamon the Hollister Community stepped up.  Through the generous donations of businesses the school district was able to secure the funds needed to make the turf field a reality.  And the new look Tiger Stadium is something to behold.

Both schools point to the fields being more than just for high school  football.  And, I can tell you, first hand, that I have already seen both places being utilized in different ways.  Whether its youth football, band competitions, or PE classes the turf is already paying off for both districts.  The fields are, and should be, places of pride for the communities.

#4 Hollister Football

Down to only Four stories left in the countdown of my top sports stories of 2016.  For this one we go to Hollister….

#4 Hollister Football

2016 proved to be a breakthrough season for Coach Jacob Hamon and the Hollister Tigers.  No, they did not win a Conference Title or Make a long playoff run.  But what they did was field, unarguably, the best team in the programs young history.  They were more disciplined, more confident, and played with more focus than we have ever seen them.

They played well as a team.  They accomplished all kinds for firsts for the program:

First winning regular season

First time to finish .500 overall

Most wins (5)

First time to beat a Class 4 school

Won more than one conference game

Undefeated in out of conference games

Claimed 7 positions on All-Conference Team including TWO first teamers

This is all a testament to both the players and coaches.  The unfortunate problem they had with a former assistant just before the season could have been a distraction but they did not let it be.  They rose above and thrived.

Now, I am not saying the Tigers are ready to start a dynasty like Lamar.  I am not even saying they are ready to win a conference or a district, but they have taken a huge step.  And, when they get to that level, they will look back on this season as the one that they turned a corner and set the program up for future success.

Hamon talks with the team

#5 School of the Ozarks Basketball

We enter the top five of my countdown of top sports stories of the year.  For this one we head over to the School of the Ozarks.

5- School of the Ozarks Basketball.

The School of the Ozarks started the basketball season losing two of their first three games in the Forsyth Tournament.  They lost to schools more than SIX  times their size and both games they lost on shots at the buzzer.

Little did we know at that time, that they would not lose again until the State Quarterfinals.  Coach Jerry Martin’s ballclub went on a streak to behold.  Running through their competition with a combination of tough defense and deadly three point shooting, to go along with an aggressive rebounding game.

They would host and win the district championship at the Keeter Athletic Complex on the Campus of College of the Ozarks including a 72-34 blowout over Bradleyville in the Championship game.  They would then head to Cabool where they would dispose of Eminence by 20 in the sectional finals of the state playoffs.

Gideon would end the run for the Patriots in the Quarterfinals.  But not before the Patriots racked up a total of 22 wins, including 21 in  a row.

Area Softballer headed to Michigan…

When you think of softball, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is not usually the first thing that comes to mind.  But, for Karri Dale Johnson its the culmination of a dream come true.

On Friday, Johnson signed a letter of intent to continue her athletic and academic career at Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan.  Surrounded by a large group of family and friends, the soon to be Reeds Spring graduate was all smiles as she talked about the journey that brought her to this point.


(click link for my interview with Johnson)

Johnson has completed her studies at Reeds Spring and will actually be starting college next semester.

#6 Branson Basketball wins the COC

Time for number six in my countdown of top sports stories of 2016.  And it features an improbable Conference Championship.

6- Branson Basketball wins the COC.  The Central Ozarks Conference is completely loaded.  It features perennial power Nixa, always loaded Ozark, and a Republic team that has been to multiple Final Fours in the past few seasons.

The 2015-16 Branson Pirates had a senior class that had won from the time they were in grade school but had found the going a little tougher after they had reached Varsity Ball.  Add in the fact that two expected starters decided not to play basketball their senior season and an the early part of the season going up and down and a Conference Title did not seem to be a likely goal.

But things came together for this group at the right time.  Even with a loss to Nixa the Pirates were still alive as the Eagles ended up dropping a couple of games before the end of the year

The big night for the Pirates was a home game against Ozark.  Seth Wood was untouchable that night as the team pulled off the huge upset.  The win seemed to give the Pirates confidence and served as a springboard that eventually would end with an outright COC Championship following a win over Republic.

The League Championship was the first under coach Kirk Hanson.

#7 Reeds Spring Track

Time for number seven on my countdown of top sports stories on 2016.  For this one we stay in the month of May. Reeds Spring had a tremendous track season.

7- Reeds Spring Track.  The Running Wolves knew they had a chance to make some noise last track season.  And make noise they did.  They took the COC team title and then the district championship.  They knew they had a shot to pick up some individual medals at State but they were to do a whole lot more than that.

For the first time in school history the Reeds Spring Wolves track team finished on the podium as a team at the state track meet in Jefferson City . The Wolves claimed third place in Class 3.
Led by their strong sprinters the Wolves got points from nearly everyone that qualified for the Championships. Korey Robinette and Ransom Allphin each qualified in four events and each brought home four medals.
Robinette finished second in the 200m and third in the 100m
Allphin won the bronze in the 300m hurdles
Both were part of the 4 x 100m relay state champs and the 4 x 200m relay team that finished third. Allphin anchored the 4 X 400m relay team to a third place finish.
Robinette and Alphin were joined by Colter Whitten and Matthew Krulic on the 4X200. And, by Keenan Haynes as well as Krulic on the championship 4X100. Allphin, Krulic, Gabe Corn, and Nick Haddock made up the 4 X 400.
The javelin was held for the first time as a exhibition sport and the Wolves’ Garrett Miller claimed the top prize in that event.
In all the Wolves amassed 42 points, falling short of only John Burroughs and Lamar.

#8 Layn Hurst breaks National Records

Its Christmas day and time for number eight in my countdown of top sports stories.

8- Layn Hurst breaks both the National Career High School RBI record and the National Hits record.

On May 10th Hurst was 4-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Those two RBIs give him 290 for his career which tied Drew Henson for the national career record. He would get the mark to himself in the next game. A first inning sac fly against Aurora got it for him.

He would break the national hits record just a few days later.  On May 18th in the district semi-finals Hurst would become the all-time high school hit king. On that same day he threw a complete game striking out ten and sending the Panthers to the District Title Game.

photo courtesy of Ozarks Sprots Zone


#9- College of the Ozark Volleyball

Number nine in this years countdown is the season of the College of the Ozarks Volleyball team

The Lady Cats went 29-16 on the season winning the Association of Independent Institutions Tournament and advancing to the National Tournament.  Coach Stacy Edwards’ Club was hardly done there.  They traveled down to San Antonio, TX to face Our Lady of the Lake University in the opening round.  After dropping the first two games the Lady Cats rallied to squeak out a 26-24 win in game three.  And, took the last two games to stun the home team and advance to Sioux City.

Things did not go well in Iowa as the Lady Cats were placed in a loaded pool and did not advance to bracket play.  But, that did not take away from a great season.

Haley Stallings and Rielly Dobbs were named NAIA honorable mention All-Americans.  (the two also garnered first team honors from the Christian Association).   Danielle Curnes,Brandy Glessner,and Sarah Kreul received recognition as Scholar Athletes.  Curnes is a graduate of Reeds Spring.

photo courtesy of CofO

The Top Stories Start with Keenan Haynes….

It’s time to start my annual countdown of top sports stories of the year.  As always I remind you that this is my list only.  It is totally opinion oriented and you may have the top ten in a different order or different stories all together.  I only consider area stories and I do not go back and research so I will, without a doubt, leave something out that surely belongs…   that being said we will get started with #10.

10- Keenan Haynes misses almost entire Senior season.

Unfortunately not all top stories are happy stories.  This is proof that sometimes bad things unfortunately happen to really good people.

The off season held a lot of promise for Reeds Spring Football. They were coming off another 10 win season and had once again pushed Bolivar.  Many thought this might be the year they get by the Liberators and win the COC.

A big part of that was the return of Keenan Haynes.  Haynes was moving to fullback and looked ready to thrive in that new role.  He was also set to return at free safety to lead the defense. (two weeks before the opener he was moved to outside linebacker)

He picked up the new defensive position quickly and looked ready to roll in it.  And offensively he looked like a natural at the fullback spot.  A monster year running the ball seemed to be a certain.  So much so that I honestly remember thinking that 1300 yards and 16 TDs were not going to be a stretch.

Things started out well in the opener against Mt Vernon.  Even though they loaded the defense to stop him; he was over the century mark in the fourth quarter.  Then, a run up the middle, just like the others.  Except this time he went down and stayed down for a bit.  He was able to get off the field but no one knew, at that point, just how bad it was.

I remember going into the coaches office after the game and hearing the news of what they feared the injury was.  I can just imagine my face, as my jaw dropped.  I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Yes, for what it did to the team, but even more the feeling of what it did to Keenan.  This was really not going to happen to him, was it?

Got the news a day or two later that indeed he had broken his leg and was likely out for the season, or at least the regular season.

To his credit (and if you know him at all it was no surprise) He still was still right there with his team every step of the way. Did not miss practices or meetings (unless he was at the Dr).

And one of the best moments of the year, no doubt, was seeing #25 out there vs Mt Vernon in the District Semi-Finals.  He was far from 100% but the dude battled back and was able to get back on the field.  He played two games all year and both of them against Mt Vernon.  Seeing him out there was incredible.  He was able to finish his career on the field instead of on the sidelines.  Just another testament to the battle in this guy.