Loeffler's Link

March 8, 2017

PRAIRIE HOME, Mo. --- You could say the Prairie Home Lady Panthers have been living on the edge the last four games.

And you'd be right.

They've won the last four by a combined 10 points, after all ... their last three by a combined five points, their last two by a combined two points.

Doing the math on the latter, that would be back-to-back one-point wins --- with the season on the line, when the next loss in your last game, back-to-back one point wins.

But considering what this team has been going through since Day One of practice, this is nothing, really.

Living on the edge is wondering if you'll even have enough players to  put a team on the floor. Because the Lady Panthers are just a couple injuries away, a couple of sick kids away, from a forfeit.

Against all odds, the Prairie Home girls now have a date in Columbia --- this six-player Class 1 team is going to the Final Four.

Believe it or not.

"It's been pretty amazing, not only for me, but for the girls, the community and the alumni, and everyone who's involved with it," second-year head coach Dalton Armontrout said. "These girls are just playing so well together right now, and everything's working out for us. We just keep finding ways to win ball games.

"Now, we're in the Final Four."

They certainly are. But for the love James Naismith, how did they do it ... with six players?

"I'm still trying to figure that out, I don't know," Armontrout said. "When you have a cheerleader who's never played, a freshman, and a girl who hasn't played for two years ... I don't know.

"We talked about everyone doing their part. Those three girls, they don't have to score 20 points a game, they just have to get a couple rebounds, a couple steals, a couple assists, deflections, dive for loose balls ... do the little things that we need to do to win, and we'll let the others doing their things."

And whatever you do, don't foul out. It happened last month in a 14-point loss to Sturgeon, when two players fouled out, leaving the Lady Panthers with our on the floor.

"I have no rotation," Armontrout said. "If you have two fouls (in the first half), you're coming out."

Well, the first player with two fouls, anyway. After that, your options become somewhat limited. (And you know how coaches scan down the bench, looking and deciding which player to put in the game? You know the rest ...)

But fouling out happens. Kids get sick. Injuries happen.

On this Magical Mystery Tour to Columbia, however, those things really haven't happened.

"We really haven't had any injuries, we've been pretty lucky," Armontrout said. "We have had some sickness --- during districts, the girls weren't feeling the greatest, but they kind of battled through it.

"They had to battle through it, we had no other choice."


NOW, PRAIRIE HOME (22-8) IS PREPARING TO BATTLE fourth-ranked Walnut Grove (27-4) in the Class 1 semifinals at 5 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena. It's Prairie Home's first Final Four appearance. Ever. In any sport. Walnut Grove? This is Final Four No. 4 --- in the last four years in girls basketball.

Tradition vs. Grit.

"The girls have worked extremely hard to get to this point," Amontrout said. "They've all improved over the course of the season, now they're here. They've definitely exceeded my expectations.

"I would like to thank our schedule for that, it's prepared us for these type of games. This year, we scheduled some bigger Class 3 teams, like South Callaway and Hallsville. But I also scheduled some good Class 2 teams, like Sturgeon and Salisbury.

A 2005 graduate of Centralia, Armontrout, 30, coached at Salisbury after college, before coming to Prairie Home in 2014. He won a district title with the Lady Panthers last year, too.

And you thought this year was difficult ... he won that one with five players.

Prairie Home ended up losing in the first round of sectionals, but this year --- and after winning the district as a No. 4 seed --- the Lady Panthers edged Madison 42-41 in the sectionals, then Green City 61-60 in the quarterfinals.

"I said to the girls that if we got out of our district," Armontrout said, "we had a good chance to make it to the Final Four, then Norborne (ranked sixth in the state) got beat ... it all kind of worked out."

After winning the quarterfinal game .. well, you can imagine the feeling.

"The girls were really excited and I was happy for them, I was happy for the community," Armontrout said. "But I'm still kind of in shock."

Every player has their role, to be sure, but the Lady Panthers rely on their Dynamic Duo.

* Shianne Rhorer, 5-10 senior (23.6 ppg., 11.2 rpb., 5 spg.)

"She's really special," Armontrout said. "She is a hard worker, she has a great motor, she doesn't stop, and she doesn't come off the floor unless she's in foul trouble.

"She plays great defense, she rebounds, she gets steals for us, she picks her teammates up ... we ask her to do a lot for us and she steps up. She's the heart of our team."

Said Rhorer about this journey: "I know this sounds a little negative, but we didn't think we would be here. But we are."

* Rachel Distler, 5-9 senior (18.3 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 3 spg., team-high 79 3-pointers). The team averages 55 points, Rhorer and Distler account for 42 of them.

"She is one of the best shooters I've ever coached," Armontrout said. "She's a pure scorer --- she can shoot it from deep and she can get to the hole. She saved our tails in the district championship game with a couple of back to back 3s, and she's our main ball handler, she sets up the offense.

"Shianne and Rachel complement each other very well."

The team's other senior is Elizabeth Fairchild, while the other big scorer is 5-8 junior Kristen Peterson, who averages seven a game. That's 49 of the 55 points, leaving the other six points to be divvied up by the other three players.

"She (Peterson) has hit some really clutch shots for us in the last few games," Armontrout said.

The other Lady Panthers are junior Kurstin Leonard and freshman Ashlyn Twenter.


PRAIRIE HOME IS A TOWN OF EITHER 220 or 280 people, depending on which city limit sign you believe. Either way, they've been coming out in force.

"The support has been amazing," Armontrout said. "Everyone's ready for Thursday, the girls are ready for Thursday, the school is anxious to get to Thursday. It's just amazing how a community comes together like this."

Prairie Home is truly one of those places where everybody knows everybody, and the last one to leave town turns the lights off. 

"If you're going to rob a town," said Armontrout, finishing the joke, "Prairie Home would be a good one to rob on Thursday."

The school has 43 students, grades 9-12. Figure about half of those are girls --- so nearly 30 percent of the girls play basketball. Just imagine if 30 percent of the girls at Jefferson City High School came out for basketball.

Of the 43 students, 10 are seniors, six are female. That's 50 percent out for basketball.

So their success --- not just this year, but in recent years --- is really something. The Lady Panthers have won 82 games the last four seasons, including last year's splendid 23-6 squad that won the school's first district title in 20 years, and just the third in school history.

But now, fully half of this year's team will graduate, which begs the question --- what about next year? Is it possible for a team to go to the Final Four one year and not even have a team the next?

That is living on the edge. What an awful situation that would be, beyond sad.

Not to worry, because the calvary is on the way --- Prairie Home will have a big incoming class of freshmen this fall. Big, of course, is relative --- 17 students --- but that includes five girls who plan to play basketball.

"We'll probably have eight players next year," Armontrout said.

What a luxury. Armontrout won't know what to do with himself.

Then again, this season of living on the edge has worked out pretty well, don't you think?

For questions, comments or story ideas, contact Tom at loefflerslink@hotmail.com.

Falcons may be flying
under radar, but

they're No. 1 where

it counts the most

Believe it or not, Prairie Home
girls have a date in Columbia 

With only six players on the team, head coach Dalton Armontrout has directed the Prairie Home Lady Panthers --- who are the true definition of a team --- to the Class 1 Final Four this week in Columbia.