Kory Lower is just in his third season as Blue Springs South’s head girls basketball coach, so he’s still learning on the job.
Ten games into this season, he’s already learned something new: This Jaguar team is very good. As in 9-1 good.
Just like the girls, every year I think our staff is still learning a lot, including myself,” Lower said. “If anyone would have told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to be 9-1 for your first 10 games,’ we would definitely have taken that.”
Lower says South, ranked No. 4 in Class 5 in the latest Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll, has benefited from good scheduling. But that hardly explains the Jaguars’ hot start. They’re winning by an average of 20 points per game, and they have a victory over defending Class 5 state champ North Kansas City under their belt.
And until they ran into powerhouse Jefferson City last Saturday in the Jefferson Bank Holiday Hoops Classic final, South’s season was off to a perfect start.
“I don’t think we’ve arrived by any means, but I also think we’ve kind of performed better than what myself or maybe anyone anticipated from this group,” Lower said. “Been very pleasantly surprised, I guess you could say.”
With a host of experienced varsity players returning, South expected to improve on last year’s 15-12 record and certainly top the 10-18 mark of Lower’s first team. But this isn’t the same group that he took last year to the district final.
South got a nice addition in Jaidynn Mason, a 5-foot-6 sophomore guard who transferred from Park Hill South. Mason, who averages a team-best 15 points per game, has given Blue Springs South a nice one-two punch along with 6-foot-1 senior forward Lauren Gillig, who is averaging 13 points and six rebounds.
“I think having someone like Jaidynn obviously helps,” Lower said. “She’s a pretty dynamic player. What’s been cool is that she gets along well with the girls who are here, and the girls have, in turn, taken her in, too.”
It’s also helped having Tiyani Rollins develop into a steady point guard. A 5-5 sophomore who mainly played junior varsity last season, Rollins is the Jaguars’ assist leader, one of the tops on the team in steals and the Jaguars’ top scorer in a couple of games.
Mason, Gillig and Rollins all play for the KC Lady Run GMC club team, so they all had plenty of experience working together on the court. Lower said that’s made all the Jaguars more fluid in their motion offense.
“This group really trusts each other and shares the ball, which has been huge for us,” Lower said. “We have several girls who are very capable scorers, and when they’re all willing to pass and make the right plays to the open player, it’s been fun to watch.”
The fun began for South with 71-40 win over Suburban Big Six rival Raymore-Peculiar in the season opener, and it continued through the next three games in the Winnetonka Invitational. When they gutted out a 46-43 win over Northtown in the final, Lower and the Jaguars suddenly knew they had something going.
“If anything, it was validation to the girls that what we are doing will pay off in the long run,” Lower said. “Usually we beat teams that we should beat and we’ve lost to really good teams. That was maybe the first time in a long time we felt like we won a game that could really go either way.”
South rolled through three more lopsided wins before going to Jefferson City, and two more victories there set up a matchup with the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Jays. And while the Jaguars shot 19 percent from the field (including 1 of 21 from 3-point range) and struggled with the Jays’ size and length, Lower didn’t feel that bad about the 51-29 loss.
“I told the girls we can’t hang our heads about it,” Lower said. “We were competitive and worked really hard; they’re just really good. It sounds weird when you lose by 20-something, but I felt really good about the weekend and how we played over the tournament. Hopefully we can continue that.”
South will dive into Suburban Big Six play when the season continues Jan. 9 with a trip to Park Hill. Lower wants the Jaguars to go in feeling good about what they’ve accomplished, but not too good.
Sounds like another lesson for the coach and his team,
“I hope it doesn’t make them think that we’ve arrived and we can just show up and win,” Lower said. “I’m hoping this start makes us confident, and shows us that we can play with about anybody as long as we play like we’re capable of.”