EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originaly published in the Winter 2013 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.
The Ozarks region of Missouri has a rich tradition on the hardwoods of high school gyms across the area. There have been memorable teams and players, record setting performances, and legendary status attained by several players over the years. But who is the greatest girls basketball player ever in the annals of Ozarks prep basketball? Which girls player comes to mind when the question “who’s the best?” comes up? Who are the “best of the best?”
Ozark Preps Illustrated attempts to answer this question with its All-Time Ozarks Girls Basketball Team. First, we put together a hand-selected committee of the best basketball minds in Ozarks prep history. From former coaches and administrators to longtime sportswriters and fans of the game, Ozark Preps Illustrated wanted the people who have seen more basketball games and players over the years than the average person to determine the “best of the best.”
Next, we instructed the committee that we would be compiling a five-member 1st-Team, five-member 2nd-Team, and five-member 3rd-Team, and asked the committee members to submit initial nominations for the All-Time team. After the nomination process had ended, there were 80 nominations for the girls team.
At that point, the final list of nominees was submitted back to the committee for final voting. Each committee member was asked to submit his or her Top 15 players (ranked in order). A player who was voted #1 received 15 points, while each #2 received 14 points, all the way down to #15, which received one point.
After all of the final ballots were submitted, the five girls players who received the highest point totals comprised the 1st-Team, while the second five comprised the 2nd-Team, and the players who received the 11th through 15th highest point totals received 3rd-Team status. Any player who received at least one point in the final voting, but who was not ranked in the top 15, received Honorable Mention status.
One thing is readily apparent: there has been A LOT of basketball talent come through the Ozarks over the years. There is no objective way to compare players from different eras. It is simply not possible. Some of the best shooters in state history did not have the three-point line to boost their point totals. With class basketball, is it more impressive for a Class 1 player to put up monster stats against fellow Class 1 competition, or is it more impressive that a Class 4 or 5 player put up solid stats against big school competition? Therein lays the subjectivity of this list, as well as any similar type of list.
Hopefully, this list serves to promote high school girls basketball and its history in the Ozarks, as well as serving as a conversation piece and source of debate. So, without further ado, Ozark Preps Illustrated presents its All-Time Ozarks Girls Basketball Team! Let the debate begin…
MELODY HOWARD, Marshfield (1987-90)—Perhaps the most accomplished player in Missouri prep history, Melody Howard was a key member of Marshfield teams that won a state-record 102 games and captured three-straight state championships from 1988-90. Howard, who scored a school record 2,155 career points, averaged 17.3 points per game for her 124-game career. Howard, who also averaged 4.47 assists per game for her career, dished out 554 career assists, including 10 in the 1988 state championship game win over Duchesne. Howard, who was named Miss Show-Me Basketball as a senior, led Marshfield in scoring with 16 points in both the 1989 and 1990 state championship games. Howard went on to a standout career at Southwest Missouri State, where she helped lead the Lady Bears to their first Final Four appearance in 1992. Howard, who left SMS as the school’s all-time leading scorer, is one of three players to have her SMS uniform number retired. Howard played professionally for Denver of the women’s American Basketball League, and is a member of the SMS, Missouri Valley and Missouri Sports Halls of Fame.
CASEY GARRISON, Bolivar (2005-08)—A starter since she walked in the doors at Bolivar as a freshman, Casey Garrison was a four-time All-State selection who scored in double figures in a state record 114-of-119 career games. For her career, Garrison averaged 23 points per game in scoring a school record 2,744 career points, which is still the 12th-highest total in state history. As a junior, Garrison averaged 24 points, 3.9 steals and 3.2 assists per game, and led Bolivar to a 3rd-place finish in Class 4. As a senior, Garrison averaged 25.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 4.2 steals per game, and posted nine games of 30-plus points for the season. Garrison scored 25 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and was credited with four steals in leading top-ranked Bolivar to a 47-43 overtime win over Notre Dame de Sion in the 2008 Class 4 state championship game. Garrison went on to a standout collegiate career at Missouri State, where she finished her career as the second-leading scorer in Lady Bear history.
MELISSA GRIDER, Marion C. Early/Marshfield (1988-91)—One of the most prolific scorers in the annals of Missouri prep history, Melissa Grider tallied 3,211 career points, which was a state record until surpassed by 3rd-Team honoree Hannah Wilkerson in 2010. Grider played the first three seasons of her career at Marion C. Early, and is still the MCE school record holder with 2,435 points. As a junior at Morrisville, Grider set numerous state records, including 1,231 points and 452 made field goals. Grider transferred to powerhouse Marshfield for her senior season, and was a key member of the Lady Jays’ 1991 state championship team, as Grider scored 25 points to lead Marshfield in the Lady Jays’ 61-43 trouncing of Visitation Academy in the Class 3A state title game. Grider, who was named Miss Show-Me Basketball in 1991, averaged 26.98 points per game for her career, which is the seventh-highest total in state history. Grider’s 1,181 made field goals for her career is the second-highest total in state history, while her 249 made three-pointers is sixth-highest in state annals. Grider erupted for 62 points against Dadeville in 1990, and went for 52 against Hermitage the same season.
SUZANNE NYANDER, McDonald County (1980-83)—The only player to be named 1st-Team All-State all four seasons, Suzanne Nyander was a key member of some successful McDonald County teams in the early 1980’s. As a freshman, Nyander helped lead the Lady Mustangs to a state runner-up finish, before leading McDonald County to a 29-1 record and Class 3A state championship as a sophomore in 1981. As a senior, Nyander scored 20 points to lead the Lady Mustangs to a 52-48 victory over Visitation Academy in the Class 3A state championship game, which completed a 31-1 season for McDonald County. Nyander, who is still the school record holder with 2,018 career points, was named the Player of the Decade for the 1980’s by the Springfield News-Leader in its “Best of the Century” Basketball Players, which was published in 2000.
TARA MITCHEM, Glendale (1993-96)—A three-time All-State selection, Tara Mitchem led Glendale to a 27-3 record and a Class 4A state championship as a senior in 1996. Mitchem, who made 15-of-16 free throws in the Lady Falcons’ state semifinal victory over Cor Jesu Academy, is still the Glendale career scoring leader with 2,137 career points. Mitchem played one season at Ohio State University before transferring for her final three seasons to Southwest Missouri State, where she was a key member of the Lady Bears’ second Final Four team in 2001. Mitchem later played professionally in the WNBA for the New York Liberty.
JENNA ARMSTRONG, Stockton (1998-01)—A three-time All-State honoree, including 1st-Team accolades as both a junior and senior, Jenna Armstrong departed Stockton as the school record holder in career points (2,133), rebounds (691) and assists (378). Armstrong averaged 20.2 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per contest as a sophomore, as the Stockton dynasty began to brew. As a senior, Armstrong scored a tournament record 30 points (including 22 in the first half) in the state title game to lead Stockton to the 2001 Class 2A state championship. Armstrong, who played collegiately at Iowa, competed in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame All-Star game during the summer of 2001. Armstrong was named the MVP after scoring 16 points, in addition to winning the three-point shooting contest.
JEANETTE TENDAI, Glendale (1979-82)—One of the first girls basketball standouts in the Ozarks, Glendale’s Jeanette Tendai was a three-time All-Ozark Conference and All-District honoree. Tendai garnered All-State honors as a senior after leading Glendale (26-1) to a berth in the state quarterfinals. Tendai played collegiately at Southwest Missouri State, where she finished her career as SMS’ all-time leading scorer. Tendai was the first women’s player at SMS to have her jersey number retired, and was inducted into the SMS Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992, and is also a member of the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame.
TINA ROBBINS, Joplin (1987-90)—A standout on several top-notch Joplin teams in the late 1980’s, Tina Robbins is still the school record holder with 1,934 career points. Robbins, who averaged nearly 21 points per game during her career at Joplin, led the Lady Eagles to back-to-back Class 4A state runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1990. As a junior, Robbins scored 33 points in Joplin’s 1989 state semifinal victory over Central (St. Joseph) to advance the Lady Eagles to the state title game. Robbins was deadly accurate, as evidenced by her 16-of-19 (.842) effort against Parkview as a senior. Robbins teamed with 1st-Team honoree Melody Howard at Southwest Missouri State on teams that won conference regular season and tournament titles four-straight seasons, and reached the Final Four in 1992. In addition to other honors, Robbins is a member of the Joplin Sports Hall of Fame.
KARENSA BARR, West Plains (1996-99)—One of the most lethal shooters and scorers in Ozarks prep history, Karensa Barr scored a school record 1,914 career points in her career at West Plains, a record which stood until broken by Honorable Mention honoree Andi Haney in 2013. Barr, who was named Miss Show-Me Basketball in 1999, led West Plains to a 29-3 record and the 1998 Class 4A state championship. Barr went on to become a record-setting guard at the University of Missouri.
MARLA DOUGLASS, Mountain Grove (1980-83)—A potent scorer from the moment she stepped through the doors at Mountain Grove, Marla Douglass led Class 3A in scoring as both a freshman and as a senior. The 5-foot-7 inch guard scored a school record 2,426 career points, and averaged 23.78 points and 4.66 assists per game for her career. As a senior, Douglass averaged 27.5 points, 10.9 rebounds and five assists per game. Douglass played two seasons at Oklahoma State University before transferring to Southwest Missouri State, and was inducted into the Missouri State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.
HANNAH WILKERSON, Miller (2007-10)—The most prolific scorer in the annals of high school basketball in Missouri—boys or girls—Miller’s Hannah Wilkerson shattered the state scoring record (for boys and girls) by scoring 3,724 career points, an average of over 31 points per game for her career. As a senior, Wilkerson averaged 36.8 points per game in leading Miller to a 3rd-place finish in Class 2. Wilkerson broke the Missouri state tournament single-game scoring record with her 43-point performance against eventual state champ Harrisburg in the state semifinals, and also became the first Missouri prep to top the 40-point mark in back-to-back games at the Show-Me Showdown. A four-time All-State selection, Wilkerson scored 1,215 points (the second highest single season total in state history) as a senior. As a junior, Wilkerson averaged 32.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in leading Miller to a 24-6 record and its first-ever District championship. As a freshman, Wilkerson set the state freshman scoring record by averaging 26.6 points per outing in 2006-07. Wilkerson tallied 54 points in a game against Verona her senior season, and scored 50 points in just three quarters (including 24 points in the first quarter alone) in a game against Diamond the same season. Wilkerson is currently playing collegiately at Missouri State.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Hannah Wilkerson completed her collegiate career in the spring of 2014.
JENNY ANDERSON, Kickapoo (1992-95)—A four-time All-State honoree, Jenny Anderson was a key to building the Kickapoo girls basketball dynasty in the mid-1990’s. Anderson, who was a three-time 1st-Team All-State selection, is the leading scorer in Kickapoo’s storied history with 1,755 career points. Anderson also helped lead the Lady Chiefs to a pair of state runner-up finishes in 1993 and 1994.
RHONDA BLADES, Parkview (1988-91)—A two-time All-State selection, including 1st-Team honors as a senior in 1991, Rhonda Blades is still the all-time leading scorer in Parkview history with 1,659 career points scored. After high school, Blades enjoyed a standout career at Vanderbilt, and eventually played three seasons in the WNBA. In fact, Blades hit the first three-pointer in league history as a member of the New York Liberty in 1997.
COLLEEN SWIFT, Springfield Catholic (1988-91)—A key building block of the Springfield Catholic dynasty of the early 1990’s, Colleen Swift is still the all-time leading scorer in Springfield Catholic history with 2,218 career points. Swift also grabbed 1,375 career rebounds, which is the 8th most in state history, and averaged nearly 12 boards a game for her career. As a sophomore, Swift scored 36 points (including 23 in the first half) and blocked seven shots to lead the Lady Irish to a win over North Platte in the 1989 Class 2A state semifinal. Swift followed that up with 26 points in Catholic’s 50-48 loss to Salisbury in the 1989 state final. Swift’s two-day total of 62 points in 1989 is tied for 5th all-time in Show-Me Showdown history. As a junior, Swift scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help lead Catholic to the 1990 Class 2A state championship, and garnered 1st-Team All-State honors following the season. As a senior, Swift scored 22 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked four shots in Catholic’s 73-65 win over Marshfield, which snapped the Lady Jays’ state record winning streak. Swift once scored 50 points in a game against St. Pius X in January 1991.
MARSHA BURTON, Marionville (1990-93)—Arguably the best player on some really good Marionville teams in the early 1990’s was Marsha Burton, who scored a school record 2,604 career points, which is the 16th-most in state history. Burton was named Miss Show-Me Basketball in 1993, and was a 37.46% three-point shooter for her career. As a sophomore, Burton scored 28 points in the state championship game to lead Marionville to a 30-3 record and the 1991 Class 2A state championship. Burton also scored 27 points in the 1991 state semifinals for a two-day Show-Me Showdown point total of 55 points. Burton was a two-time 1st-Team All-State honoree.
GIRLS HONORABLE MENTION (Listed Alphabetically)