Ozarks high school basketball coaching performances we were most impressed by in 2022-23
There are many great high school basketball coaches in southwest Missouri and a few of them stood throughout the 2022-23 season while leading their teams deep into the postseason or by rising above expectations.
Here were the ones we were most impressed by at the end of the season.
Mitch McHenry, Kickapoo
McHenry is already a state-championship-winning head coach but the work he did during the 2022-23 season might have been his best performance to date.
No, he didn't have five Division I players on his roster, as was the case when the Chiefs won the title in 2021, but he had a team full of hard-working and great high school basketball players who bought into what he was preaching.
There were ups and downs throughout the season but he had them peaking at the end en route to a state runner-up finish with a roster that's almost completely different than the one he was winning with two years ago. And you can't forget that he lost a four-star player headed to Marquette over the summer.
Kickapoo's always going to be in the mix with the athletes it brings in but the culture that McHenry has maintained and supplemented himself will continue to keep the Chiefs as the team to beat in the Ozarks.
If there was any question as to whether McHenry was an elite coach in the area before, he gave a pretty definitive answer this year.
John Schaefer, Logan-Rogersville
Wherever Schaefer goes, he wins. He's widely regarded as one of the best coaches in southwest Missouri if he's not already the best coach the area has to offer. But what he did this year with the roster he had was too good to be ignored.
Schaefer has had elite basketball players and has won everywhere he's coached but he won this season with only a couple of players who considered basketball as their primary sport. He won this year with a batch of pure athletes and he found a way to get them to buy into how to win and they did.
Rogersville made the state quarterfinals this season as Schaefer adjusted to the roster that he was given. Too often you see coaches stick to what they know while Schaefer looked at what he had and figured out what was best for them and it worked.
Deric Link, Sparta
Link appears to be on a meteoric rise as a head coach in the area after leading Sparta to its first district championship since 2006. He had one of the best teams in the area this season and he adds to a new wave of young coaches in the area who have won a district championship before turning 30.
The former Evangel basketball player finished up his third season in charge of the Trojans and has seen them go from a 6-18 team his first year to 18-11 in his second and 24-6 in his third. He has star power on his team but the development has been noticeable over the years.
This is a program to keep watching with Link leading the way.
Jordan Fielding, Hillcrest
Another young coach who had his team in contention late in the season, Fielding, 33, showed that he's capable of having Hillcrest as a program to watch for a while.
The Hillcrest grad had his team within a stop of making the Class 5 state semifinals before falling in overtime in the quarterfinals. It's a team that hadn't won a district title since 2015 and was six games below .500 a year ago before turning into one of the better teams in the area.
Over his four seasons on the Hillcrest sideline, the Hornets went from 7-19 his first year to 18-12 this year with a district title and quarterfinal exit. Fielding has his heart and soul in the Hornets program and he's going to put everything else has into it to keep it as a contender in the Ozarks for years to come.
Brock Blansit, Nixa
It's not easy to take over the reins from one of the area's coaching legends but Blansit did so and helped lead the Eagles to an undefeated regular season.
Blansit, with a roster that was very different than the one that finished as a state runner-up a year ago, led the Eagles to a 28-1 season that ended in a district championship loss to Kickapoo. He maintained Nixa as one of the great programs in southwest Missouri and it looks to be headed toward staying that way for years to come under his leadership.
Blansit had some great decisions throughout the year that led Nixa to have the season it did. Notably, he switched star player Kael Combs to an off-ball guard to the point and creating for others and shining brighter than ever. New players who didn't contribute as much to the runner-up team from the prior year came in and fit perfectly en route to what was a great season for the Eagles.
Jenny Talbert, Fair Grove
In her 13th season as the head coach of Fair Grove, the patience and hard work that Talbert installed in her program for the last decade-plus turned into a state championship victory.
Talbert had the program looking like one that was ready to make the jump heading into the season while Strafford's dynasty run had been getting in Fair Grove's way over the years. For some of the great Lady Eagles teams she's coached, this team won its first district title since 2013 while knocking out Strafford and advancing to win a championship.
It took a belief that Talbert helped install in the program and one that wasn't going to give in to what has been a dynasty over the last decade. She had younger players earn experience in a 17-9 season in 2021-22 before she set them up to make the championship jump this season.
Matt Powell, Glendale
No, he didn't lead a team to state nor did he win a district championship but the job Powell did for the Glendale girls might still be the most remarkable work that any coach in the area, boys' or girls,' accomplished this season.
Powell took a program that hadn't won more than seven games since 2016 and led it to a 20-7 finish in 2022-23. The Glendale girls were night and day from what they have been in recent years and he did it in his first year as head coach.
Glendale had many highlights throughout a season that included a Blue Eye Invitational win, an "upset" win over Carthage in the first round of the Pink and White, a win over Rolla and a Gary Keeling INivtational championship win that took three overtimes to beat Ozark.
The most important thing Powell might have done for the Glendale girls' basketball team is installing a sense of belief and pride back into a program that hadn't won very much in recent years. That should do wonders for Glendale going forward.
Scott Womack, West Plains
A year after winning a state championship, Womack was in charge of a Lady Zizzers program that finished third in the state. He had a group of girls that was motivated by feeling counted out following the graduation of current Mizzou guard Ashton Judd who was one of the top players in the state last season.
It fueled West Plains to its third-straight state semifinal appearance. Womack has installed consistency in a program that's always seeming to produce new star players each season — from Mackenzie Brunson a few years back to Judd last year to Allyssa Joyner this year.
Womack has infused an expectation of winning into the West Plains program that isn't going away. The team was young this season and will have Joyner back. West Plains will be in contention come next March.
Boys' basketball coaches worth mentioning
Tim Brown, Republic
Cody Culp, Neosho
Jordan Epps, Central
Rob Guerin, Marionville
Jay Osborne, Catholic
Brett Reed, Hartville
Cody Shelton, Mansfield
Jack Simpson, Parkview
Bryan Tucker, Fair Grove
Girls' basketball coaches worth mentioning
Nikki Combs, Chadwick
Kris Flood, Republic
Dr. Gary Greene, Mansfield
Nathan Houk, Ava
Wayne Jessen, Norwood
Kevin McDaris, Fordland
Jim Pendergrass, Kickapoo
Jenny Perryman, Nixa
Katie Pritchard, Marshfield
Brad Shorter, Carl Junction
Beau Swopes, El Dorado Springs
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at email@example.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Top Ozarks high school basketball coaching performances of 2022-23