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Girls basketball spotlight: Liberty Christian off to impressive start with eye on another state title

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Adison Roden tries not to think about what it would be like playing a schedule under the Missouri State High School Activities Association umbrella.

Sure, the Liberty Christian Academy senior forward is anxious to know how her team would fare against such a challenge.

But she prefers to focus on the task at hand.

“You don’t want to wonder about it,” she said. “But it's always creeping into your mind. How good would we be? Then I realize that I’m blessed to be where I am.”

Roden and her teammates are proud to be one of the best girls basketball teams in the Missouri Christian School Athletic Association. The MCSAA is the governing body for the 30 independent Christian schools across the state.

The Liberty Christian girls basketball program has developed into a consistent winner at its own level, capturing three state titles since 2007, including last year’s championship.

This year, the Wright City-based school is off to a 13-0 start. Another state crown is a strong possibility.

But this time, veteran coach Butch Clark has lined his schedule with public schools that belong to the MSHSAA in order to toughen his group for the title push.

And the Eagles are winning those games as well.

Now, all of a sudden, the success at a higher level has the players wondering how they would do as a full-time MSHSAA institution.

“We’re still a relatively small school,” Clark said. “For years our enrollment has fluctuated. Now, we’re a little more stable and our enrollment is higher than it was. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take the full plunge later on.”

Liberty Christian, which has around 60 students on the high school level, would be a Class 1 school by enrollment if it decided to move in with the public and private MSHSAA schools.

So far, the Eagles are 6-0 this season against MSHSAA schools. Their best effort came in a 51-44 win at Elsberry, a strong Class 3 school with an 8-4 record. They also knocked off Clopton, a Class 2 school that is better than .500.

Plus on Saturday, Liberty Christian earned a 47-32 victory against Pacific, a Class 5 school. That victory helped Liberty Christian advance to face Grandview (6-2) at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in the championship game of the Bourbon tournament.

“I like playing public schools because they’re more challenging,” LCA forward Gracie Foran said. “It would be cool if it were possible to play for a (MSHSAA) championship. I guess, for right now, we’ll never know.”

Foran also sees advantages to staying put.

The Christian-only games feature group prayers among both sides before and after the contests.

“Personally for me, I like how our conferences games are centered around God when we play those schools,” Foran said. “It is very Christ-centered and we try to bring that into how we play. I would like to play as many public schools as possible if we can still stay affiliated with our (Christian) conference.”

Liberty Christian has outscored its area league foes by an average of 65-26 over five games.

The players admit they get amped up when facing public schools.

“There’s more excitement there,” senior guard Andrea Mueller said.

Explained Roden, “Any time we get a chance to show how good we are against (public) schools, it’s a big deal to us. It puts a fire in us.”

The MCSAA has a few different rules. The Christian schools, with lower enrollments, get to use younger players on the varsity level since there are no junior varsity or junior high teams.

Roden and Mueller, who are cousins, started playing on the varsity level at LCA when they were in sixth grade. Mueller moved into the starting lineup a year later.

One member of the Eagles' current 11-player roster is in eighth grade.

Mueller, who hopes to continue playing in college, leads the team's attack at 13.5 points per game. Her sister, Sophi, a sophomore, is scoring at a 9.7 clip. Foran averages 8.1 points and a team-best 6.5 rebounds.

“We have eight kids that I wouldn’t feel bad starting at any time,” Clark said.

Alli Meyer, Anna Meyer, Lauren Moss, Ava Queen and Kylee Ball all have made major contributions this season.

The 68-year-old Clark beefed up this year’s schedule and has his team playing stronger opponents on a regular basis. Liberty Christian will travel to Festus to take on St. Pius X on Jan. 31. St. Pius is a Class 3 school with a 7-5 record.

The Eagles are proud of their three state titles and the rich tradition their program has established.

“We’re known for our athletics and we’re proud of our teams,” Liberty Christian chief administrator Beverly Wilgus said. “Our (athletic) achievements are big for us.”

For now, the Eagles will forge ahead in search of another MCSAA crown.

Clark said a move to MSHSAA might be possible down the road. But his focus remains on this season.

“We’re coming into the harder part of our schedule,” Clark said. “And I think we’re ready.”

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