Going on his fourth year as a starting guard for Nixa, Kaleb Wofford hasn’t been part of a District championship team. In fact, his senior class could be the first to go through high school without celebrating at least one Eagles District title since the graduating class of 2007.
Wofford is optimistic Nixa has all the makings of a team that can end the program’s three-year post-season title drought, even with the looming presence of Kickapoo as a possible District opponent.
“This is probably going to be the best team I’ve been a part of in my time at Nixa,” Wofford said. “We have a good point guard, a lot of shooters and a lot of size and athleticism. We have all the (ingredients) to have a winning team. Our entire starting five and guys coming off the bench are all capable of playing at the next level. I think we’re going to be a tough matchup for teams around here.”
“I think we’re going to be a powerhouse,” junior guard Colin Ruffin added.
Coach Jay Osborne likes his team, as well. He stresses defense could make or break the Eagles.
“Our big thing is we’ve got to convince these guys to be defenders,” Osborne said. “When they start buying in to guarding people, being aggressive on the defensive end and getting deflections and getting in passing lanes, we’ll be pretty good. They all can shoot and score and play hard on the offensive end. We’ve got some athleticism, good shooters and a couple good ball-handlers. We’ll be able to score inside and along the perimeter. But defensively, we’ve got to get everybody to buy in to what we’re doing.”
“Time will tell,” he added. “We’ve got a veteran group and they know how to play.”
Nixa boasts returners all over the floor from last season's 21-7 outfit that won a share of the COC championship. Ruffin, Combs, guard T.J. Sorgenfrei, forwards Kael Combs and Jason Jones and center Colten Berry all have experience on their side.
Osborne saw Combs enjoy a productive freshman season and reports he’s on track for elevated success this winter.
“Kael has had a good few weeks and had a good fall,” Osborne said. “He could be our best player when he wants to be. His effort has been good. He’s been aggressive on the offensive end, has improved his 3-point shooting and defensively he could be a real problem for people because of his athleticism and he has good hands. If he plays at both ends of the floor, he’s going to have a great year.”
The Eagles will mix in guard Jackson Bray and center Jaret Nelson. Bray is a transfer from Spokane.
"He’s going to fit in well. He’s a hard worker,” Osborne said of Bray. “It’s going to take him a little while to figure out what we’re doing. Once he does, Jackson’s going to help us.
“We’ll have good depth,” he added. “We’ll have eight or nine guys who we will play. It’s hard to play more than eight or nine. We’ve tried that at times over the years and it doesn’t work. Seven players is probably the best, eight is difficult and nine or more is almost impossible. We’ll find a rotation.”
Nixa’s schedule includes some changes from a season ago and actually has seemingly been ever-changing due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The Eagles were due to open Tuesday at home versus Fayetteville, Arkansas. Instead, the teams will play in Fayetteville for the second straight season. Last year, Fayetteville beat Nixa 73-63.
“Their administration won’t allow them to cross over the state line. So, I told them we’ll go down there and play,” Osborne said. “It will be a challenge playing south of the border. But challenges will make us better.”
Osborne has filled in Greenwood and Father Tolton as late additions.
“We had two teams from Kansas City coming down to play us and Kickapoo on consecutive nights, but they backed out,” he said. “So, we have Greenwood scheduled and possibly Father Tolton. I think those are pretty much confirmed. I like our schedule.”
Greenwood was 26-4 and Father Tolton 20-5 last season.
The Nixa Invitational Tournament field is made up of the host Eagles, Ozark, Kickapoo, Webb City, Marquette, Springfield Central and defending champion Parkview.
“We’re still looking for one team,” Osborne said. “It will be a good field.”
In his 29th season at Nixa, Osborne relates the annual challenge to have his team playing its best basketball in February and March keeps him motivated.
“I love coaching and this is a good group to coach,” he said. “We keep looking at tweaking things and having different schemes. But I’m sure by mid-December or mid-January we’ll be doing the same things we’ve always done. My job isn’t so much X’s and O’s, it’s pretty much about keeping the players focused, making them better every day and getting them to play team basketball.”