Bailey Kliewer and her Harrisonville girls basketball teammates did more than stuff their faces during the Thanksgiving break.
They also spent it stuffing the nets at the Wildcats’ gym with long-range shot attempts.
“During Thanksgiving break, we shot 300 to 400 shots a day,” Kliewer said. “So, we’re really working on it this year to develop our game more.”
Harrisonville has some size in Kliewer, 5-foot-9 junior, and Mandi Bundt, a 5-foot-11 junior, who both are capable of muscling inside for shots, but coach Shawn Gibbs also wants the Wildcats to be effective outside shooters.
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So far, the extra shooting is paying dividends.
During a 49-34 victory Nov. 27 against Van Horn in the first round of the Eagle Invitational at Summit Christian Academy, Harrisonville made eight three-pointers. On an off-shooting night during a season-opening loss Nov. 21 against Savannah, the Wildcats made 5 of 28 shots from behind the arc.
“We definitely put emphasis in the offseason and during the season on being able to shoot the ball from the outside,” Gibbs said. “We do have a couple of bigs, but other than that we’re pretty little. It’s important for us to open that inside game out by being able to shoot the ball from the perimeter.”
Gibbs wants to open up space underneath for juniors Kliewer and Bundt, who are among the Wildcats’ trio returning starters from last season’s 14-14 Class 4, District 12 champions along with junior guard Brecken Moreland.
Kliewer, who averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, showed some range of her own by knocking down a few outside shots during a 14-point performance against Van Horn. Moreland hit three of the Wildcats’ three-pointers and finished with 11 points.
“I like because, if they put a big girl on me, then I can step out and try to shoot from outside or drive and get other people open,” Kliewer said.
Gibbs added, “Bailey’s just really developed. She’s somebody who wants the play at the next level. You saw her step out and shoot the ball and hit a couple of threes and it’s nice to have that inside-outside game. It’s hard to guard.”
Guarding Kliewer will be even more of a challenge for opponents this year. Along with the improved shooting range, she’s no longer hobbled by a knee injury she suffered her freshman season. The bulky knee brace is gone, and she believes she’s back to “100 percent” in her mobility.
“Towards the end of the summer, Bailey started to look like what we remembered with her as a freshman,” Gibbs said. “She’s a good athlete and that’s important for us. Now, she’s moving around pretty good and, at 5-9 and pretty strong, that’s a tough matchup.”
While Kliewer will certainly be the focal point for the Harrisonville’s success, the Wildcats are far from being a one-girl team. That’s because Gibbs has been working on developing some depth, too. Against Van Horn, he shuttled seven players on and off the floor and the Wildcats still maintained their double-digit lead.
“One of the things we try to do is play a lot of depth,” Gibbs said. “We’ve got enough people to play in the rotation where that top seven or eight are pretty interchangeable. That makes it feel like you have five starters back when you only have three.”
Having a district title under their belts has helped in developing that depth and confidence, Gibbs said, but it also comes with a bit of a downside. After winning the school’s first girls basketball district title in 35 years, the Wildcats know they’ll be taken a little more seriously this season.
“We feel we get a lot better look from teams because they realize we were a championship-level program,” Gibbs said. “But it’s a nice thing to refer to back in practice. We’ve got to practice like a championship team. If that’s the title that we carry, then we’ve got to work like one.”
Even if it means taking a few hundred extra shots.