Seniors leave legacy at Carl Junction

Members of the Carl Junction girls basketballl team celebrate their playoff win against West Plains on Tuesday night at Nixa High School. Globe | Laurie Sisk

A stellar season ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Carl Junction High School girls basketball team.

No, the Bulldogs didn’t suffer a season-ending loss on the hardwood. Instead, the 2019-20 campaign concluded in a painful fashion on Monday when the Missouri State High School Activities Association announced the Class 4 and Class 5 state basketball tournaments were being canceled due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

“The decision was made in consultation with local and state officials, as well as the member schools,” a MSHSAA news release stated, noting the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations of limiting gatherings played a large part in the difficult decision.

For the undefeated Bulldogs, it was an agonizing conclusion, as dreams of winning a state championship were crushed in an instant.

“It’s devastating for these kids and their families and it’s devastating for all the other participants,” Carl Junction coach Brad Shorter said Monday afternoon. “These kids have put in a lot of work, not just this year. Since they were big enough to dribble a basketball, our seniors have put in the work. One of the main goals they had was to get the opportunity to play in the Final Four and possibly compete for a state championship. I understand why the decision was made, and I understand how quickly the virus can spread, but it’s just tough to swallow.”

Carl Junction (28-0) was scheduled to meet three-time defending state champion Incarnate Word (27-4) on Friday afternoon in a semifinal contest of the Class 4 tourney at the Hammons Student Center at Missouri State University.

Shorter had to deliver a difficult speech on Monday.

“I gave them the news earlier in the day and then we went ahead and had a practice,” Shorter said. “Their families came to the gym. I talked for a few minutes, and it was hard. We had our last center court meeting. We have tough kids, and I told them the good Lord wouldn’t give them something they couldn’t handle. We’ve been put in this position because we can handle it.”

Monday’s announcement to call off the Show-Me Showdown came just one day after MSHSAA released a statement confirming the games would go on with some fan restrictions. The Class 1-3 state tournaments were held this past weekend in Springfield, and each participating school was limited to 120 attendees.

The Bulldogs punched their ticket to the state’s Final Four by beating Sullivan 64-48 on Saturday at Southwest Baptist University on a day where schools were limited to 60 attendees apiece due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

The last remaining undefeated team in the state, the Bulldogs were in the midst of a historic and memorable season.

Carl Junction claimed a Central Ozark Conference championship, won three tournament titles, captured a district championship for the fifth straight season, and advanced to the semifinal round of the state tournament for the third time in four years.

Carl Junction senior Katie Scott, a four-year varsity performer who was recently named the Gatorade Missouri Girls Basketball Player of the Year, took to social media after the team learned the news that their season was suddenly over.

“Forever thanking God for this team,” Scott tweeted. “My heart hurts. This team turned into my family, and I’m forever grateful.”

Carl Junction’s roster featured six seniors this season — Scott, Shila Winder, Dani Wrensch, Taylor Hughes, Ashley Stokes and Taylor Storm.

Teams that were scheduled to compete this weekend will receive a plaque from MSHSAA in recognition of being a semifinalist, as no state champions will be crowned. Players will receive individual medals, as well.

“I just want closure for my team,” Shorter said. “They’re high school kids. They’ve spent a lot of time working on their craft, and they’ve become pretty dang good at it. I hope maybe the state does something … maybe co-champs or something. We went 28-0. … It would be nice to get a declaration of some sort.”

Every state in the country has now called off their respective state basketball tournaments. Missouri was the last one to cancel.

“We understand the unexpected hurdles this creates for our schools and fans, and apologize for the inconvenience it has caused,” MSHSAA Executive Director Dr. Kerwin Urhahn said in a release. “Our thoughts are with our schools as they navigate the uncertainty of these times.”

While it wasn’t the ending the team envisioned, as the team was left wondering what might have been, the Bulldogs can walk away knowing they went undefeated during the winter of 2019-20.

“We put a lot of time into the season … the coaching staff and the kids,” said Shorter, who was assisted by Bobby Waggoner, Cory Kerbs and Mikaela Burgess. “These kids wanted to be state champs. And in my eyes, we are state champs. No one beat us.”

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