Coming off last year’s fairy tale state championship season for the senior girls (and the loss of three key players and the coach from that team), Rural Special School is preparing for a new season of basketball, the sport that often seems to be the heartbeat of the close-knit community.
Meet the Rebels is set for this Thursday evening, when players and coaches of all four teams will be introduced. The senior class is holding a chili supper fundraiser at 5 p.m. in the cafetoria prior to activities in the gymnasium.
The new coach for girls teams is Hanse Bowman, a teammate and cousin to last year’s coach, Luke Cornett. Bowman is 25 and lives at Drasco. This is his first coaching job.
Regarding the senior girls, he said, “Obviously, we lost a lot of talent from last year, but we have a lot coming back and moving up and we should have an exciting year.”
The team returns seniors Brinley Morgan and Emily Morris, as well as juniors Kylan Stevens, T Morgan and Harli Goodnight. There are no sophomores, but three ninth graders have been moved up to fill out the roster: Emma Goins, Kendall Kocher and Rayleigh Turner.
“I hope to see them play hard and with heart,” Bowman said. “Our main strength will be our toughness and how hard we play.”
With the absence of the three ninth graders, the junior girls team is very young, and this season will be a time of learning and trusting that they will get better and better throughout the year, Bowman said.
The team consists of eighth graders Kenli Clark, Rieley Sutterfield, Mia Richardson and Aubrey Linville, and seventh graders Kadence Garrison, Jorden Stone, Kaylyn Sullivan, Karmen Thompson and Bellah Kirby.
Boys teams will be coached by Mitch Lewis, who coached both junior teams last season.
The senior boys also have ninth graders on the roster and should be competitive. Cole Linville, Lonnie Hershberger, Jayden Berry Kasen Stevens and Jacob Morris all join the team as freshmen.
Seniors Braiden Jelks and Alex Garcia top the roster, along with junior Buddy Morgan.
Linville and others are shooting threats, while Stevens and Hershberger complement each other for a strong inside game, Lewis said. They also play with intensity and determination.
“They don’t give up,” Lewis said. “Several times they were down last year and made some good comebacks.”
He noted that the team will likely be underestimated by many opponents, which should work to the Rebels’ advantage.
The junior boys are not individually large but have some depth with 12 players. The roster includes one ninth grader who did not play last year, Daimeon Cooper, who is undersized for a post player but makes up for it in hustle, the coach said. Eighth grader Elisha Rushing, who played a lot of minutes last year, has taken the role of team leader. Eighth grader Will Lejeune has shown dramatic improvement and “put in the work,” Lewis said.
Other ninth graders on the roster are Marcus Moore and Ricky Pflieger, and other eighth graders are Shane McBroom, and Adrian McGuire. Seventh graders Hudson Nichols, Traxler Carlton, Nolan Winkle, Logan Newman and Diamond Osburn.
Rural Special senior teams will see their first action at the Bad Boy Classic hosted by Izard County Consolidated. The senior girls play Tuckerman on Oct. 21 at 6:30, and the boys play Lead Hill on Oct. 22 at 7:30.
The first regular season game is Oct. 26 at Wonderview. Teams are on the road Oct. 28 at Shirley and Nov. 1 at Flippin.
The first home game is Nov. 4 when the senior teams and junior girls host Norfork. The following night, the senior teams and junior boys host Viola.
Other games in the first part of the season are South Side at home on Nov. 8, Clinton away on Nov. 11, Alpena at home on Nov. 12 (Homecoming), Calico Rock at home on Nov. 16, Quitman at home on Nov 18, and Concord at home on Nov. 30.