SECTIONALS: Upstart Hermitage Ready for Tradition-Laden Walnut Grove

Walnut Grove's Audree Crane launches a three-pointer in a game earlier this season. The senior has ended every season of her career in Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Walnut Grove High School)

CLASS 1 GIRLS STATE SECTIONAL

#3 Walnut Grove (27-1) v. Hermitage (18-9)

March 3 / 7:45 PM

Site: Southwest Baptist University

These two Polk County League foes tangled back on Jan. 9, with Walnut Grove pulling away late for a 56-33 victory. The Lady Tigers were impressed with the energy of the Lady Hornets, and this Hermitage team is much improved in the past seven weeks. Hermitage’s district championship marks the first season in which the Lady Hornets have not been one-and-done in the district tournament since a runner-up finish in 2009.

“They came out and hit us in the mouth pretty hard,” said Walnut Grove head coach Rory Henry of the Jan. 9 contest. “They came out fired up. Our kids were surprised at how hard they played. They have a pretty talented group. Our kids definitely respect them.”

Hermitage's Missy Newman (#30) (Photo by Jay Salmon)

Hermitage is led by a youth brigade that includes freshman point guard Sadi Hostettler, who averages 12.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Junior forward Cheyanna Jennings averages 11.4 points and 5.3 boards per outing, while freshman guard Sheridan Corum is the team leader in steals and three-pointers. Missy Newman also makes key contributions to the Lady Hornet cause.

“We are going to have to take care of the basketball and rebound well against a bigger and more physical team,” said Hermitage head coach Shane Salmon. “We are going to have to execute in the half court and shoot the ball well. We are looking forward to the challenge of playing a very good team and a program with lots of tradition.”

It’s a new cast, same result for Walnut Grove, the two-time defending Class 1 state champions. The Lady Tigers, who have advanced to the past three Final Fours, were gutted by graduation, but that just presented opportunities for a new collection of talented athletes to shine. The new lineup also has meant a change in styles for the Lady Tigers this season.

“It’s been completely different this season,” said Henry. “The entire dynamic of the team has changed, from their personalities to how we play as a team. The girls do not feel that last year was their team. They’ve talked all year about building their own legacy. We played baseline-to-baseline last year. I think we attempted 720 threes, and our goal was to force 20-plus turnovers per game. This year, our goal has been to slow the tempo down. We want to win the rebound battle. We’re bigger, so we want to get the ball inside more.”

The Lady Tiger attack is keyed by a pair of seniors in Audree Crain and 6-foot-3 Jaycie Dishman, who poured in a team-leading 22 points to lead Walnut Grove to its fifth-straight district title. Fellow senior Ellen Hayter has also shined in an expanded role this season, while sophomore Raylie Hejna has also made key contributions.

“We look at it as the next game on our schedule,” said Henry. “We’ve told the girls that teams get there (the Sectional round) for a reason and not by accident. They’re all good teams at this level and they’re not gonna lay down for us. We’ll have to play our best basketball to come out with a win.”

Walnut Grove's Ryleigh Hejna (#33) and Audree Crain (R) (Photo courtesy of Walnut Grove High School)

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