Avenging a season-opening loss from a season ago, the No. 11 Labette Cardinals pounced on the Neosho County Panthers early in an 86-60 win on Saturday afternoon at home.
Labette built up a 32-11 lead through the first quarter as the Cardinals started the game hot from behind the arc. Labette connected on seven 3-pointers in the first half in total as they led 49-28 at halftime.
"The kids came out with great intensity and focus," Labette head coach Mitch Rolls said. "We planned for zone all week and we were worried about it. So I was happy with the execution. We found the spots that we focused on in practice."
Angel Williams, a sophomore who made her return to the Labette roster after sitting out a year, established herself as a dominant force in the paint. Williams tallied a team-high 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds for a double-double.
"I'm very happy and impressed," Rolls said. "But I see her everyday in practice, so for her that's a mediocre game. We're just scratching the surface with Angel when it comes to what she'll do for our team."
Jayla Smith, a freshman making her collegiate debut, added 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four blocks and a pair of steals.
"Jayla can do it all," Rolls said. "She's a scoring guard that can do a lot of things on the offensive end. Where she'll be great is learning to defend and rebound at the college level. She's a great addition to our team."
Sophomore point guard Denijsha Wilson ignited the Cardinals off the bench with 14 points and a game-high nine assists.
"She came off the bench and did whatever it takes," Rolls said. "Once that kid gets going, she's one of the best guards in the country. I'm very happy with her."
Chrissy Brown led Neosho County with 21 points but needed 21 shots to get there.
While Labette left with a dominant win on the scoreboard, the Cardinals left room for improvement with its shooting efficiency. Labette shot 37.7% from the field and just 51.5% from the free throw line.
"I don't know how much I'll chalk it up to first game jitters, but we've got to shoot the ball better," Rolls said. "We shot too many threes in the first half. We hit a few, but 21 threes in a half is not our brand of basketball."
Labette now gears up for a true test of mettle as it travels south to the Grayson Classic in Dennison, Texas. The Cardinals will face Division I No. 3 Trinity Valley as well as Weatherford on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 respectively.
"It's time to go to work," Rolls said. "We've got the toughest schedule in the country and we've got to compete on a nightly basis."
Conner leaving coaching staff
Tiffany Conner, the Labette assistant coach who joined the staff at the start of the 2017-18 season, announced that she was leaving to take an assistant job at NCAA Division II Fort Valley State in Georgia. The job starts immediately.
Conner was not on the bench for Saturday’s season-opener but sat in the stands behind the team. She departed Parsons on Saturday night.
“I was looking at jobs trying to move up throughout the summer,” Conner said. “But I wanted to do it right. I thought it’d happen before the first game, but this was the start date they gave me.”
Over Conner’s two seasons on staff, Labette went 44-11 as the Cardinals have established themselves as a national powerhouse program.
“It’s nothing but appreciation and love for her,” Rolls said. “She did an unbelievable job here. She made my life five-to-10 times easier. She has a great basketball mind. I can go on and on. But I’m happy for her moving up.”
Rolls added that he’s unsure of a plan going forward for the season with regards to hiring a replacement assistant. The move comes at a unique time when there are few candidates actively looking for work.
“I really don’t know,” Rolls said. “With this being a spur of the moment deal, I’ll sit down with (athletic director Aaron) Keal and rely on the people ahead of me that have been through this before.”
Conner, who played college basketball at South Florida before eventually joining Rolls’ staff, credited her time at Labette for propelling her career.
“I think I made the right choice coming out here,” Conner said. “I enjoyed every bit of my two years here. Between the community and coaching, it was all awesome. This was the right move and I don’t regret it at all. If I could, I’ll come back.”
No. 11 Labette 86, Neosho County 60
Labette: 32 17 25 12 — 86
Neosho County: 11 17 15 16 — 50
Labette: Kymora Westerfield 5, Jayla Smith 12, Diamond Jones 14, Shanice Uwase 9, Nicole Ajayi 8, Jamie Moore 2, Denijsha Wilson 14, Jordan Chiles 1, Ariah Powell 3, Angel Williams 15, Taylor Watkins 3
Neosho County: Addy Emmons 6, Jennifer Garcia 2, Lauren Jones 1, Rajone Callahan 2, Jessica Jones 5, Briona Jensen 3, Hayley Stiger 8, Kyley Woodruff 8, Morgan Bolen 2, Chrissy Brown 21, Arianna Crook 2