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Saxony girls basketball enters first season under new head coach

Saxony 6-foot-1 senior post Evie Caruso was named SEMO All-Conference and Class 4 District 1 All-District after recording 9.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last winter. Photo by Jay Forness

Last winter for the first time since the 2019-20 season when the Saxony Lutheran girls basketball team won what was then its eighth consecutive district championship, the Crusaders reached the district finals.

Even though Saxony’s season ended there, it was still a move in the right direction for a program that only had a combined winning percentage of .372 the two seasons prior. The Crusaders now hopefully have their answer at the helm as Chris Crawford steps into his first season as the program’s head coach after serving as an assistant last year.

Coach Crawford is taking over for Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Sam Sides, who came out of retirement after the 2019-20 campaign to coach last year’s team. The Crusaders finished the season with a .500 record at 13-13 overall as they also took third in the SEMO Conference Tournament along with being the Class 4 District 1 runner-ups.

Saxony’s top player coming back from last season is SEMO All-Conference and Class 4 District 1 All-District selection 6-foot-1 senior post Evie Caruso. Last year was her first full season playing varsity as she finished with averages of 9.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

Caruso recorded four double-doubles as a junior and had 10 games where she scored double figures. Evie’s best performance came in a 51-41 win over Festus as she recorded a career-high 28 points and 13 boards in the double-digit win.

“Evie obviously has a huge advantage because she’s tall and long, but her biggest asset is how hard she works,” Coach Crawford said. “It’s not even a lot of times on the offseason end — it’s defensively what she does to alter shots, take up space and cut down lanes. That’s a huge presence for us, but when you put her on the offensive end she’s a load. She’s really refined her perimeter shooting and post moves.”

Coach Crawford will also have a future college basketball player at his disposal in senior guard Becca Johnson, who has verbally committed to play at Division-III Webster in St. Louis. The last player for Saxony to go to Webster was former all-state selection and 2018 graduate Addison Beussink.

Last winter, Johnson paced Caruso in points per game with 9.3 of her own while also averaging 2.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 assists per contest. In fact, Becca actually registered more double-digit performances at 11 with her season-high 21 points coming in a win over Neelyville.

Johnson tied her own single-game high of three 3-pointers in her 21-point performance and returns as the Crusaders leader in 3’s from last winter, having hit 32. Saxony graduated three of its top four 3-point shooters in Emma Dunning (29 3’s), Anna Mueller (15) and Ashlyn Mueller (12).

“Becca is obviously a very hard worker and is super talented offensively,” Coach Crawford said. “She can fill it up from three and get to the hoop, and she’s a great defender, too, with a high motor and basketball IQ. We’ll have to utilize that all season long.”

The third and final returning starter for Saxony is senior forward Maci Hollis, who averaged 3.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists last season. As a member of Saxony’s soccer team last spring, Hollis was named all-state and district defensive player of the year after helping the Crusaders reach the Class 1 Final Four with Coach Crawford at the helm.

Others hoping to take over starting roles and contribute for the Crusaders this season is a strong core of juniors in Abby Haley, Timora Criddle, Maddie Preusser and Camille Richey.

“I’m very excited, and I’m glad that I’m really familiar with this group of girls,” Crawford said. “They know how I work, and I know how they work. I’m excited to get started and tip the season off.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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