By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
Bentonville’s girls are primed to win a third basketball tournament championship this season.
No. 3, if captured by the Tigers, will be the Black Division of this week’s Neosho Holiday Classic.
Bentonville, coached by Tom Halbmaier, is Class 7A in Arkansas. The Tigers have opened 9-0 with the titles won on their floor and Vinita (Okla.). Bentonvllle will be seeking a third straight Neosho crown.
The Tigers possess four seniors with starting experience from a 20-10 edition that lost 44-37 to Fort Smith Northside in the 7A quarterfinals last season.
Bentonville, in Pool A at Neosho, opens against East Newton at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Neosho Middle School. The Tigers face McDonald County at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday before tackling Pierce City from Pool B at 4 p.m. on Friday.
The returning starters are 5-foot-7 Taylor Lee (who scored 16 against Northside in their third futile meeting), 5-5 Brooke Mabeus, 5-8 Rashaun Casey and 6-1 Julia Garrard.
Kindal Coleman, a 5-7 junior, probably will complete the Wednesday starters, Halbmaier said.
“Several times we’ve gone with nine players this season,” Halbmaier said. “We have three more seniors in Savannah Byford, Jamayne Potts and Jasmine Secrest.
“Lee is averaging 14 points and 8 boards,” Halbmaier said. “I believe we have three more players averaging 6 or more points. Garrard is our leading rebounder with an average of about 9.
“I like our maturity,” Halbmaier said. “The players don’t get too high or too low. They want to compete. They want to right the ship on their own. Winning isn’t good enough. They want to play well and improve.”
Halbmaier, 40, is in his 13th season as the Tigers’ head coach. He’s a graduate of Lead Hill, North Arkansas Community College and the University of Arkansas. He was a manager for the Lady Razorbacks under Gary Blair before securing his master’s degree from Harding University.
Halbmaier is assisted by Debbie Casto, Ray Mayer and Randy Richardson. This is Richardson’s seventh season with the Tigers after a total of 12 at Webb City.
Other girls games at NMS on Wednesday are Carthage vs. Purdy at 11 a.m., Seneca vs. Springdale (Ark.) at 12:30 p.m., Webb City vs. Forrest City (Ark.) at 2, Pierce City vs. Van Buren (Ark.) at 6 and Neosho vs. McDonald County at 7:30.
Halbmaier stressed the importance of playing the four games at Neosho.
“This is the best scenario for 12 teams,” he said. “Kids don’t want to practice during the holiday break. They want to play.”