If you want to see greatness all you have to do is look at the Crane Lady Pirates basketball team.
After capturing the state title last year at 30-3 overall, the Lady Pirates return this year with a record of 29-1 along with a No. 1 ranking in the latest high school basketball polls in Class 2.
The No. 1 team will face off against the No. 2 team in the New Franklin Lady Bulldogs Thursday night in the semifinal round of the state tournament at the Hearnes Center in Columbia starting at 5 p.m.
Like the Lady Bulldogs, who will enter the game at 28-1 overall with all five starters back, Crane returns all but one starter off of the state championship team.
Crane coach Jeremy Mullins said New Franklin is a very good team. “They are big,” Mullins said. “They have some size in the middle and they rebound the ball well. They also have a guard who can shoot and I think they have a pretty good point guard. We will have our work cut out for us. There are some matchups that we will have to be aware of.”
Of course the Lady Pirates have also been a matchup nightmare for opposing teams this season. While averaging 67.9 ppg this season, Mullins said he will use anywhere from 8-10 girls.
Crane will also start the game against New Franklin with two seniors, one junior and two sophomores.
Although a returning all-state player from last year, senior Riley Israel ranks third on the team in scoring at 8.4 ppg. However, Mullins says Israel does other things well for Crane while averaging 3.7 apg, 2.9 rpg and 1.6 spg. She is also the most experienced player on the team while returning as a three-year starter.
“Riley’s point production is not really up there but it’s just some of the other statistical stuff that she does,” Mullins said. “Her assists, steals and rebounds to me are the statistical things that make her a great leader.”
While Israel does a little bit of everything for Crane, sophomore Emma Lander gives the team both scoring and rebounding while averaging 15.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg. As a spot starter last year, Mullins said Lander is a very solid player.
“Emma is very athletic,” Mullins said. “She can get up and down the floor and defends a little bit for us,” Mullins said. She is just a tremendous athlete.”
Sophomore Lexie Vaught also returns from the state championship team. Although just a sophomore, Vaught has been a big contributor for the Lady Pirates while averaging 9.3 ppg along with 5.3 spg, 3.9 apg and 3.6 rpg.
Mullins said Vaught’s basketball IQ is probably one of the best that he has seen at this level. “She is all about the game and wanting to get better,” Mullins said. “She is a gym rat.”
The other two starters for Crane have also had their moments. Senior Allie Hagler is averaging 5.3 ppg while junior Loni Johnson is putting up 5.7 ppg.
Off the bench, Mullins said he will play one senior, one junior and three sophomores.
Mullins said it’s hard to compare last year’s team to this year’s team because he has been around both teams.
“We might be a little bit better this year because of our experience that we gained last year,” Mullins said. “I think we defend pretty well. We get up and pressure a little bit and fly around. We are a guard oriented team so I would say defense is our mainstay.”
  But even then so much returning from last year, Crane isn’t perfect. Nixa proved that in the Pink and White KTXR Tournament back on December 30th with a 50-45 victory.
Having beat Nixa two weeks earlier 65-43 in the Stephanie Phillips Classic, Mullins said the girls may have been a little overconfident.
“They shot the ball pretty well and rebounded,” Mullins said. “They absolutely out-rebounded and out-worked us but it still ended up being a five-point ballgame. We took it as a learning experience. It’s like I told the girls, when you are the defending state champions you are going to have a target on your back every game. Now I thought we carried that target pretty well this season but we are going to get everybodys best shot because who doesn’t want to beat you. We weathered some pretty good teams and came out on top.”
Since the loss to Nixa, the Lady Pirates have won 18 straight games. In the quarterfinal round last weekend at Drury University in Springfield, Crane beat Bakersfield 73-56.
No team in the state tournament this weekend also possesses a better two-year record than Crane at 59-4 overall.
Mullins said the talent level and players buying into their roles has been the biggest reason for the turnaround.
“We play 10-11 girls every night,” Mullins said. “All my girls are sharing minutes. Now some nights certain players will get more time than others but for the most part I have 10-11 girls that are sharing a whole bunch of minutes. We also have defenders and rebounders and we try to make two groups out of them.”
Whatever Coach Mullins is doing at Crane it seems to be working. Like they said if it’s not broke don’t fix it.