Lady Pirates persevere with program's first-ever state title
At the start of the 2020-21 season, the Boonville Lady Pirates basketball team had no idea one way or another if there was going to be a season.
With COVID-19 still lingering its ugly face with thousands and thousands of cases each day, Boonville coach Jaryt Hunziker said the season could have easily been one that did not take place.
As it turned out, the Lady Pirates actually played a 29 game season-except for a two week break in December-and made the most of the opportunity by capturing its first-ever state title to finish the season at 27-2 overall and 7-0 in the Tri-County Conference Tournament.
With four starters returning from the 2019-20 season, Hunziker said he knew he had a special group of 16 players this season that came to practice every day and pushed each other to be the best team they could be.
“I loved their attitudes, work ethic, dedication, unselfishness that they displayed all throughout the season,” Hunziker said of this year’s team. They are all wonderful role models on and off the court to any future Lady Pirates.”
Of course Hunziker also knew that he would have five good players on the court at one time as well. With the exception of senior Kennedy Renfrow, who came off the bench for most of the previous season, the Lady Pirates were going to be pretty much the same as the year prior.
As it turned out, Hunziker said Renfrow was the “X factor” in that she did all the little things to help the team win night in and night out.
As expected, Boonville opened the 2020-21 season with three straight wins to capture first in the Tri-County Conference Tournament-winning every game by 20 points or more. Then, in the opening round of the Centralia Tournament the following week, the Lady Pirates won by 60 (78-18) over Sturgeon to improve to 4-0.
An outbreak of COVID-19 then hit the school and community, which left Boonville minus two starters and the sixth player off the bench in a 56-54 loss to Hallsville in the semis. The Lady Pirates still managed to finish third at Centralia by beating the host team 42-29.
Hunziker said the loss to Hallsville was probably the toughest loss of the season.
“You would think losing to Hallsville at the Centralia Tournament was tough since three key players were not available due to being quarantined, but those two games allowed us to play a number of underclassmen and give them experience they can use down the road,” Hunziker said. “The Skyline loss was the toughest since we all knew we didn’t play well, especially with our shooting. Overall, the loss still allowed us to improve as a unit and made us mentally stronger.”
Meanwhile, after a two week break from competition to slow down the spread of COVID-19, Boonville came back and reeled off nine straight-including the win over Centralia-to improve to 13-1. Included in those wins were victories against both state-ranked Tipton, South Callaway and Helias. However, on a Saturday afternoon at the Windsor gymnasium against state-ranked Skyline, Boonville dropped its second game of the season in a nailbiter 44-41.
“I would said our biggest wins of the season was beating state-ranked teams like Tipton, South Callaway and Helias, following our two week pause because it gave the team a huge boost of confidence,” Hunziker said. “At times we felt like no one could beat us. These wins allowed for us to go into games like Macon and Westminster Christian and have the attitude that we would not be beaten.”
As luck would have it, Boonville never lost another game while reeling off 14 straight. Along the way, the Lady Pirates finished the conference season undefeated and then breezed through the district tournament.
Hunziker said the TCC was very competitive this season as six of the eight teams reached a district championship game with two teams (Boonville and Blair Oaks) earning a spot in the quarterfinals.
“Winning back to back TCC titles says a lot about this group and our program,” Hunziker said. “This conference is a tough conference year in and year out so to be at the top we have to play at a high level every game knowing you could easily be defeated otherwise.”
After capturing back to back TCC titles, the Lady Pirates went on the road to beat a good Macon team in a sectional game 64-52. Then, in the quarterfinals at home against another good Westminster Christian Academy squad, Boonville prevailed 65-50.
With only its third trip to the Final Four in program history, the Lady Pirates made the most of the opportunity with a 48-44 win over Benton in the semifinals in Class 4. Then, in the championship game the very next day in front of a packed crowd mostly from Boonville, Boonville claimed its first-ever state title by beating Mt. Vernon 58-52.
Hunziker said winning the last game of the season and watching the team celebrate at half court as they became State Champions was definitely the highlight of the season.
“Witnessing all the emotions from the team and the community is a feeling that is hard to explain,” Hunziker said. “Also, not too many teams get to have three players (Kourtney Kendrick, Jodie Bass and Addi Brownfield) reach the 1,000 career point milestone all within a game of each other.”
With only one starter back for the 2021-22 season, Hunziker said the Lady Pirates will continue to play with that State Champion mentality that they had this year. He said the team knows they have big shoes to fill and everyone will have to find and make time to continue to improve. “I have confidence in next year’s group to continue on with the tradition set forth by the teams ahead of them,” Hunziker said.
With an average of 59.8 ppg game this season, the Lady Pirates were more than just offense. Defensively, they held opponents to 35 ppg and created turnovers as well.
“Teamwork and how the girls shared the ball was probably one of our greatest strengths,” Hunziker said. “I always felt we were one of the most unselfish teams around and would pass up a good shot to get a great one from another teammate.”
For the season, Boonville junior Addi Brownfield led the Lady Pirates with 19.3 ppg along with 3.4 apg. She also led the team at the foul line, shooting 75 percent. Senior Kennedy Renfrow was the leader in steals at 3.8 spg while shooting 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from the three-point line. Kourtney Kendrick led the team in rebounds at 6.2 rpg, while Jodie Bass was the leader in two point field goals at 57 percent.
As a team, Boonville averaged 26.8 rpg, 16.9 spg, 13.1 apg and shot 41 percent from the field, 29 percent from the three and 65 percent from the foul line.