The girls' basketball teams at Stockton and El Dorado Springs high schools have faced high hurdles this season, and showed maturity in meeting the challenges.
El Dorado Springs has the experience to meet the challenges, fashioning a 9-12 record; while Stockton's youth has struggled to a 3-15 season. Both teams have several more games before playing in the district tournament which begins Monday, Feb. 19.
The primary hurdle for both teams has been their schedules, which includes some of the toughest teams, not only in southwest Missouri, but the state.
Stockton took on Strafford, a team which is rated as the best in the region and the state in Class 3 with a 22-0 record. Skyline is 18-2, ranked fourth in class 2, with one of its losses to Strafford, and has appeared on the Stockton schedule.
Fair Grove is on the schedule of both Stockton and El Dorado Springs, and also rated among the best in Missouri by coaches and prep writers.
In its latest power ranking of the best girls' teams in southwest Missouri, the noted high school sports blog ozarksportszone.com included many of the schools on the schedules or in the upcoming district tournament for Stockton and El Dorado Springs. Nine schools on the list of 25 have played either Stockton or El Dorado or both, or will be in the upcoming district tournament.
Of the top five teams on the list, Stockton already has played four — Strafford, Skyline, Walnut Grove and Mount Vernon.
Outside the list, El Dorado and Stockton have played or will play Buffalo, Bolivar, Lamar, Nevada, Butler and Hogan Prep.
Stockton played in three tournaments and met powerhouse teams in the first round of each — Walnut Grove (19-2), Clever (14-4) and Kickapoo (17-3).
"They've played killer games," El Dorado Springs coach Beau Swopes said of his players. "Our schedule is rough."
He said it seems every team his squad plays is having a good season and has one of their better lineups with tall and quick players who can score and shoot.
Adding to a difficult schedule is youth. Stockton does not have a senior on its team, and because freshmen have to play at the varsity level, the Lady Tigers do not have a junior varsity squad. Freshman Jenna Rickman and sophomore Katie Hedrick have shown potential and been team leaders while playing and starting.
Stockton also has battled injuries and illness with junior Amie Garver missing half the season because of off-season surgery. Garver was the team's top returning scorer and only player with extensive starting experience.
At El Dorado Springs, illness and injuries have kept key players off the floor, including junior guard Jace Cundiff, who suffered a serious injury which led to knee surgery.
Yet, veterans have stepped up and helped the Lady Bulldogs survive and win. Seniors Paige Esry, Kelsey Thomas, Amy Ford, Alexis and Kelli Tough and Peyton Babcock, alongside juniors Taylor Robison and Brittany Stevens, give the squad stability.
Because of construction at the high school, including the area next to the gym and parking lots, El Dorado Springs has been on the road for most of the season. The Lady Bulldogs had five scheduled home games, but when one was canceled the final number was four. It will have played 25 games before going to Mount Vernon for the district tournament, with 21 away from home.
"It's definitely tough," Swopes said of the large number of road games. "I try not to let it bother me, but it's harder on the girls. We are away from our families. It puts a strain on the parents who can't get to many games. We don't have student support."
He mentioned how much time he has spent away from his family because of road trips, how much time the girls are away from home and the toll it takes on them with late night bus rides. Toss in time taken away from schoolwork, homework and other activities — not to mention having to face hostile crowds and play in strange gyms.
This season tournament games have had El Dorado starting or playing well after 9 p.m., in addition to scheduled Saturday games.