Lady Eagles Face Rolla In Season Opener

As he enters his third season at the helm of the Lady Eagles basketball program, head coach Jordan Flora will encounter a new challenge.

The Lady Eagles are coming off a 25-3 record and trip to the Class 4 quarterfinals in 2019-20, but like several other programs at Sullivan this season, the roster has a different look.

Sullivan graduated six seniors — including all-state forward Mallory Shetley — and lost junior Rylee Denbow, who transferred to Francis Howell Central.

But Flora isn’t sweating the changes.

“We talked before the season about how we don’t change our expectations,” he said. 

The Lady Eagles went 42-11 in Flora’s first two seasons. When he came aboard in 2018-19, Sullivan was turning over the roster. He’s not fazed by the challenges of an inexperienced group and neither are the Lady Eagles.

“It’s a mentality and an attitude,” he said. “Yeah, we lost those girls, but you have step up. Otherwise, why are you here?”

Flora said the Lady Eagles will still challenge for a Four Rivers Conference championship, district championship and a spot in the Final Four.

“I told the girls to look at the wall and all of the banners,” he said. “There’s nothing for girls basketball. I told them since day one that’s been my goal.”

Though it seems like it happened in another lifetime, the Lady Eagles were in the running for that Final Four spot a little more than eight months ago.

A magical season that saw them jump out to an 18-0 start ended with a loss to Carl Junction in the quarterfinals. Sullivan trailed 14-10 after one quarter, but they fell too far behind to a talented squad and bowed out.

That Final Four never happened as the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to everything, but it was the closest Sullivan had been since reaching the quarterfinals in 2013.

Senior Hanna Johanning is one of three players returning that saw varsity action last season, along with sophomores Olivia Witt and Dakayla McClain.

Johanning and Maggie Jones will be the team’s only seniors and there are no juniors.

In addition to Witt and McClain, Kylee McReynolds, DaPhane Polanowski and transfer Abby Peterson make up the group of sophomores.

Sullivan also has rostered freshmen Delaney George, Aleah Hunter, Raegan Johnson and Hayli Venable.

Flora said Peterson can provide what Denbow did. At 5-11, she can score inside or outside. 

Johanning also gives the Lady Eagles an outside threat, while McClain will work in the post.

Sullivan will have to switch up some of their offensive and defensive schemes to fit the new players, but Flora said the first few weeks have practice have gone well. He’s excited to get the season started.

And while the team will look different, Flora already has some familiarity with the players, having coached them at the middle school level.

“They know what to expect,” he said. 

Flora takes pride in the team’s defense. Going into last season, he said Sullivan had the ability to hold teams to 35 points per game. 

Opponents averaged 35.93.

Keeping them at that level will again be the focus.

“As long as we hold them to 35 to 40 points, we have a shot,” he said.

Sullivan tips off the season Tuesday against Rolla.

Sullivan Independent News

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