Sports history is littered with stories of teams who surpass their preseason rankings. Teams not expected to do much, who end up becoming champions.

That’s where the 2005 Ozark High School girls basketball team comes in. Picked to finish ninth in their conference, the Tigers used a stingy defense to finish 24-8 and capture the Class 4 state championship, Ozark’s first in girls basketball.

But head coach Yancey Little and the Tigers weren’t satisfied with just one championship. The 2006 squad made it two straight by finishing 25-6 behind yet another staunch defensive unit.

That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the 2005 & 2006 Ozark High Scholl Girls Basketball State Championship Teams as members of the Class of 2023.

The 2005 state championship came as a surprise, even to Ozark players.

“If you told me a year ago that this would have happened, I wouldn’t believe you,” then-senior Shannon Borgard said following the Tigers 34-31 victory against Lincoln Prep in the title game. “But I knew there was something different about our team from the first day of practice. Our coaches kept working on us to be mentally and physically tough in practice and we didn’t respond to it at first. But we worked on it every game and every practice and it’s what pulled this off for us.”

Defense was the hallmark for the ’05 team.

“Defense carried us all year long and defense carried us (in the title game),” Little told the Christian County headliner after the game. “The plan for us as a coaching staff; we knew if the game was close with four to five minutes left, that we’ll win it. I felt like we had some close game experience and that helped us.”

During their state title run, the Tigers allowed just 27.5 points per game, a significant improvement on their impressive regular-season average of 36.6 points per game.

“I think if you were to talk to anyone that watched us play, what stood out most was our defense,” then-junior Callie Widel said. “We had four or five all-state track athletes on that team and were just hard-nosed and fundamentally sound. We always were going over game-time scenarios and how we would handle them.”

But the Tigers weren’t all defense. In a semifinal win against Jennings, Widel made seven 3-pointers – one shy of the state tournament record – as the Tigers rolled to a 56-24 win.

The season started with low expectations.

“The very first tournament we played in, we were the eighth-seeded team, and we ended up winning it,” Widel said. “I don’t know if there was a time when I thought, ‘yeah we can do this’. That wasn’t even on our radar until districts.”

The 2005 roster featured seniors Stacy Borgard and Shannan Borgard, juniors Cali Widel, Arianna Russell, Brie Blose, Tiffany Jones and Cassi Meadows, sophomores Kalyn Stalzer, Melissa Hogan, Cassie Prewitt, Katie Bond, and Liz Fugate, and freshman Courtney Gimlin. Managers were Katie Frizzell and Patricia Ramage, assistant coaches Shawn Widel and Scott McGee, and athletic trainer Dave Gordon.

In 2006, it was more of the same for Ozark, as another suffocating defense led the way. The Tigers limited state tournament opponents to 35.0 points per game and won each game by double figures.

Despite being defending champions, the Tigers never let the pressure get to them.

“We felt a sense of knowing what it takes, and we knew what to do.” Widel said. “Our confidence was the biggest difference. Our coaches prepared us so well for all of those games.”

Ozarks’ toughness was always on display during those years.

“One of our players got her front teeth knocked out during the first half of an early season game,” Little said. “That didn’t stop her. She returned in the second half ready to play after going to the doctor/dentist. In fact, the grit and toughness displayed by various players over those years was pretty memorable. It didn’t matter if they were starting the game or seldom played, it was a tough dedicated group.”

The 2006 team included Meadows, Widel and Simone Young as seniors, as well as juniors in Alyssa Paulsell, Bond, Fugate, Hogan, Prewitt, sophomores Gimlin, Casey Hokkanen, Kayla Carson, Megan Walker, Holly Reynolds and freshman Khyrstyn Brumley. Manager was Patricia Ramage, and assistant coaches were Widel, McGee and Sid Jordan, with Kelli Howard as athletic trainer.