πPhoto by Dustin Ward - Daily Dunklin Democra Pictured is the Kennett varsity girls basketball team. Pictured left to right (back row): head coach Rod Baxter, Jenny Lockhert, Kenna Hounihan, Daqueshia Duckworth, Kate Shetley, Courtney McElhaney, Shon Wynne, Anna Kay Hilburn, and assistant coach Kellye Penn; (front row): Khadijah Whitfield, Sarah Siebenhuener, Rausheda Rose, Lara Abmeyer, Mary Callaway, Logan Vaughan, Darby Sparks, and Kaytlyn Parker.
"I'm excited about the team's early practice mode, behavior and attitude," Baxter said in an interview with Daily Dunklin Democrat on Nov. 9. "They are really focussed on picking up some things I do as a coach. I feel like I cannot really speak of what to expect. I know it is very competitive in the Bootheel. What I see from my vantage point is how good we are going to be.
"We have not had our full compliment of people yet," Baxter continued. "I've got two girls with knee issues we hope will be resolved by mid -December. I've also got a girl with a groin injury and a couple with ongoing illnesses that forced them to miss practices.
"But in my mind's eye I feel like we are going to be competitive," Baxter added. "I think it may be a matter of time when the girls come together on some of the X's and O's I want the girls to do. I feel like we have the ability to push the ball up the floor a little bit and play man defense. We've got some experienced players that understand what I call time and score. I'm a big time and score coach. The explanation of that is we need to know if we need to score in a certain situation or do we have a six-point lead and need to consider a better shot selection.
"Defensively, I really don't think you know how good you are until you play a team besides you," Baxter said. "We are scrimmaging and going at each other in practice daily, but until you get on the floor against a different colored uniform you don't know how good you are defensively."
Baxter anticipates one attribute of the team will be a deep bench.
"We are going to go ahead and carry a full contingent of 14 or 15 players on varsity because I feel like if I keep these girls together and they bond we will play a lot of people," Baxter said. "I think it is a good thing to have a deep bench."
"We've got 10 guards," Baxter added. "I had a friend ask me what we are going to do this year and I said 'instead of playing five guards out we are going to play 10 guards out.' We have a large contingent of similarly skilled guards."
Baxter projects the varsity roster will consist of five seniors, five juniors and five sophomores.
Anna Kay Hilburn, Jenny Lockhert, Courtney McElhaney, Kaytlyn Parker and Sarah Siebenhuener are entering their senior season.
"We have Anna Kay Hilburn and Kaytlyn Parker," Baxter said. "They are seniors who have experience playing guard.
"We also have a great newcomer to the program in Jenny Lockhert," Baxter said. "She hasn't played basketball, but will be a solid contributor to the team. She's very dedicated to getting better and improving her game.
"In the senior class we also have Courtney McElhaney and Sarah Sibenhuener who have played some in the post," Baxter said. "Both of those players give us a solid core of inside play."
Lara Abmeyer, Mary Callaway, Darby Sparks Khadijah Whitfield and Shondrea Wynne are the five juniors on the Kennett basketball team.
"We've got a pretty skilled junior class with some quickness," Baxter said. "We've got some quickness with Khadijah Whitfield, Darby Sparks and Lara Abmeyer. We have pretty solid post-play in Mary Callaway and Shondrea Wynne.
Five sophomores - Daqueshia Duckworth, Kenna Hounihan, Rausheda Rose, Kate Shetley and Logan Vaughan - are also slated to be on the varsity roster.
"Daqueshia Duckworth will play some inside-post and Kenna Hounihan we think can play forward and guard," Baxter said. "Also in there we have Rausheda Rose, who is a talented, athletic player. Kate Shetley and Logan Vaughan will both be solid contributors also because they understand the game and have played a lot of basketball, including summer basketball."
Baxter acknowledged a deep bench should allow his team to play more aggressively defensively against some teams.
"To make a joke, foul trouble is only a problem if the other teams hit their foul shots," Baxter said. "We are going to have fouls to give and some of our girls will probably use up their five because we've got some hackers. But in the same breath I would much rather coach a girl that is aggressive and a go-getter than a girl you have to constantly try to motivate to guard defensively. I like to coach aggressive players and we've definitely got some this season."
Baxter left open the possibility of Kennett playing multiple defenses in games and against different opponents.
"I've engaged in every defense I know how to coach," Baxter said. "We are going to make game-to-game decisions, but I expect these girls will play man, zone and press some. Right now I'm trying to keep it as simple as possible until we get all of our players healthy because we have some things we can do, but the players that can do those things best are injured so we've got to wait and see."
Kennett is scheduled to open the season Nov. 26 at the eight-team Bulldog Classic at South Pemiscot school. Kennett, which has placed first at the tournament the last three seasons, has received the No. 5 seed. New Madrid County Central is seeded first, South Pemiscot is seeded second, Portageville is seeded third, Senath-Hornersville is seeded fourth, Malden is seeded sixth, Campbell is seeded seventh and Caruthersville is seeded eighth.
"I'm excited to go down there and see four teams that are better than us," Baxter said of the tournament. "We got seeded No. 5 so I know my girls are excited to go down there and see the level of competition because if we are the fifth-seeded team going into that tournament, and we are, we are really going to have to play well down there to compete against those other four teams.
Kennett's first-round game will be Nov. 26 at 5:30 p.m. against arch rival Senath-Hornersville. The game will be played at South Pemiscot Multi-Purpose Facility.
"I understand the rivalry," Baxter said of playing Senath-Hornersville. "I understand rivalry towns and rivalry games. I know this is a neutral site, but there probably won't be much neutral about it as soon as the ball goes in the air. I know our girls are ready and as a coach I'm ready to go tomorrow night."
Kennett will compete in the Bootheel Conference in the 2012-13 season with Campbell, Senath-Hornersville, South Pemiscot, Caruthersville, Hayti, Portageville and Malden. It will be Kennett's final season in the conference. Kennett has won the Bootheel Conference varsity girls basketball tournament the last two seasons.
"The Bootheel Conference is a renowned conference," Baxter said. "You don't have to go far to have coaches checking early in the year to see how the teams are doing in the Bootheel because they are going to see those teams at post-district games. The respect and knowledge Bootheel teams are going to be competitive is always there. I'm looking forward to coaching against the coaches that have had a long, good standing in the Bootheel.
"I'm really happy for the seniors they do get one more season in the Bootheel Conference," Baxter said. "But we also have to deal with the reality of the situation we are a Class 4 school and we are going to have to start competing against Class 4 schools in the near future."
Kennett is set to compete in Class 4, District 1, with Sikeston, Perryville, Notre Dame, Dexter and Cape Central for the next two seasons. The Dexter girls basketball program has won Class 4, District 1, four of the last five seasons. Kennett's girls won Class 3, District 1, in 2011 and received the No. 1 seeded in Class 3, District 1, in 2012 before suffering an upset-loss to Doniphan in the district semifinals.
"I think we will earn no respect going into that district," Baxter said. "We are going to be the Class 3 school that is now a small Class 4 school. But in regards to that we want to be playing our best at district-time. I'm very sincere in the statement 'if our girls play well I think we can compete at the district level.' The point of the whole matter is we must compete and have to compete because we don't have an alternative. Our game will have to improve as we go through the season."
Kellye Penn, who played girls basketball at Three Rivers Community College, will serve as a first-year assistant coach for Baxter. Baxter said Penn's knowledge of playing the post will be a valuable asset to the coaching staff.
Notes: Baxter replaces Spencer Hoffman as the varsity girls basketball coach at Kennett. Hoffman coached Kennett the last two seasons. Hoffman left the program after the 2011-12 season to start his own training academy - the Hoopster Basketball Club. Baxter has four decades of coaching experience. The first high school Baxter coached at - Hardin-Central, Mo. - advanced to the state playoffs in 1976. Baxter followed by serving as a junior varsity and assistant varsity basketball coach at Odessa, Mo., in 1980; varsity boys basketball at Kirksville, Mo., from 1980-1986; varsity boys coach at West Platte in Weston, Mo., from 1986-1993; mens coach at York College in York, Neb., from 1993-1995; boys coach at Smith-Cotton in Sedalia, Mo., from 1995-1997; girls coach at Smithton, Mo., from 2001-2005; boys coach in Lamonte, Mo., from 2005-2008; and boys coach at Clinton, Mo., from 2008-2011.
Pictured is the Kennett junior varsity girls basketball team.