Ozark’s 14-game winning streak entering its Class 4 District 5 semifinal with Nixa has seen the Lady Tigers consistently win 50/50 battles for the ball.
With the two-time reigning COC champions winning 50/50s on a regular basis and racking up possessions en masse, little wonder the Lady Tigers outscored their final 14 foes by a combined margin of 67-2.
Ozark has posted six straight shutouts leading up to its semifinal matchup Tuesday against Nixa.
The Lady Tigers’ best defense has often been their offense.
“The more 50/50 balls you win, the more possessions you have. It all starts with that,” forward Addie Shuler said. “When we keep possession (of the ball), we don't have to play defense.”
“It all comes together when you win the first ball,” defender Natalie Morgan said. “When you win a 50/50 ball, it makes the whole play.”
Ozark certainly isn’t lacking for motivation to win as many 50/50s possible.
“Coach makes us run (20-yard sprints in practice) for each 50/50 ball we lose,” Shuler said. “There have been a few games we haven't run any.”
The Lady Tigers feel their style of play has everything to do with their 50/50s success.
“Aggressiveness is really important,” forward Chloe Kondracki said. “You have to want the ball and get your body over the ball. When we win the ball, we can find our wings and make a play off of that and score. That's how we've scored a lot.”
“We usually win the 50/50s because we're a physical team in general,” Morgan said. “Anticipating the ball is important. You have to body (opponents) off the ball and check your shoulder and turn whichever way they're not on. Then, you have to be aware where your players are so you can pass to them.”
Ozark’s 50/50s domination no doubt has frustrated opponents. One opposing coach begged his players to simply compete for 50/50s against the Lady Tigers.
“I think that starts wearing on (opponents) and makes them tired, the more we start winning them,” Shuler said. “Once we start winning all of them, they start thinking, 'Maybe we can't win these.' Then, we have possession the entire game.”
No. 2 seed Ozark won its opening-round District game 8-0 against Joplin, while No. 3 seed Nixa downed Republic 7-0.
Defending District champion Kickapoo (19-5-1) is the No. 1 seed. The District final is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Nixa.