Park Hill came so close to the proper ending for a special season.
In a Class 5 quarterfinal, Lee’s Summit pulled a noticeable upset on the way to the state championship game. Park Hill had won two regular season matchups between the two teams, along with a victory over eventual state champion Kirkwood.
Park Hill ended up settling for one of the best seasons in program history and a 21-7 finish. The Trojans earned a second district title in three years, won a playoff game for the first time in more than two decades and rejuvenated the energy surrounding the program.
“The excitement for our program and what we do, it just reiterates the work that we put in and what we ask of the kids and now they’re excited to come to practice,” Park Hill coach Aaron Neeser said. “They do what they need to do — no questions — because the kids lead the program; we’re just facilitating the work and the ideas.”
The challenge will be obvious.
Park Hill lost starters Morgen Smith, Gigi Hopkins and Alex Berger along with reserves Jenna Winebrenner, Andie Powell and Leah Reed. In addition, Ali Walls will not be back while focusing on soccer.
The numbers are almost staggering.
Park Hill lost 66 percent of its scoring, 73 percent of its rebounding and 83 percent of its 3-point field goals with that group. The Trojans will rely heavily on speedy senior Taiya Shelby (eight points, five rebounds and three steals per game) and junior Tee Tee Bryant (11 points, three steals per game).
“Taiya started on that really successful team and guarded the best player,” Neeser said. “By the end of the year, she was a double digit scorer so she’s a really impactful kid. We still have Tee Tee Bryant, so we have two pretty important pieces right there.”
Building around those pieces remained a work in progress early in practice.
Neeser expects senior Addison Devers to work her way into the rotation, while junior Aleece Noble adds another frontcourt option for Park Hill. Alexa Lashbrook, a junior guard, will also take on a bigger role after not playing many minutes yet.
A strong freshman class could also be called on to contribute right away because Smith, Hopkins and Berger were four-year contributors and stalwarts in building Park Hill’s program.
“It’s kind of like a new start,” Shelby said. “As soon as we get into the swing of things, we’ll be good and there’s no doubt that we can’t be that team.”