By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PALMYRA, Mo. -- It didn't take long for the Palmyra girls basketball players to start celebrating their undefeated Clarence Cannon Conference championship.
As soon as the team's seniors were honored in a ceremony following a 55-28 victory over Monroe City Friday night, many of the players took turns carrying the trophy to the locker room.
Megan Hooper spent a little extra time with the hardware. The Lady Panthers senior missed last year's conference championship season with a back injury.
"Ever since I knew I was coming back this year, I knew the season was going to end up like this," Hooper said. "I love this team. We've been through a lot this year, but all of the hard work has paid off."
It's made Palmyra a team to beat as it prepares for the Class 3 postseason, which begins next week.
The Lady Panthers (20-5, 9-0) have won 17 of their last 18 games after battling through an opening month of adjustments to first-year head coach Chris Parsons' system.
"They've brought into the system, and they're believing in it," Parsons said. "They've done a great job adjusting to playing man-to-man defense. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have the shooters we do. We're much more than just a one-dimensional team."
Carly Spalding -- Monroe City's leader in nearly every statistical category -- sat out with a hyperextended knee she suffered in Tuesday's overtime loss to Brookfield.
"Sitting Carly out was a decision I felt we had to make," Monroe City coach Cody Leonard said. "Our players eventually adjusted to her being out, but it was tough for a while.
"We knew Palmyra would come out like a bat out of hell. I told the players to get used to it."
Palmyra took advantage of Spalding's absence early in the game.
Palmyra sank 7 of 14 shots and buried four 3-pointers during the first quarter. They didn't allow a Monroe City field goal until Olivia Crager made a layup with 45 seconds left in the quarter to make the score 20-4.
Evie Miles made three of her team's 3-pointers in the opening quarter. She and Katee Hinkle combined to make seven 3-pointers in the game and scored 14 points apiece.
Alexis Van Nostrand also scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half as Palmyra led 35-10 at halftime.
The prospect of finishing the CCC slate undefeated and earning 20 regular-season wins gave Palmyra plenty of adrenaline.
"It was a big night, and it was an emotional night," said Van Nostrand, a three-year starter. "I didn't think it would be that emotional, but it was. Trusting each other has been a big thing lately. That was definitely a key tonight."
Palmyra's players and coaches agreed they would trade all of their achievements so far this season for one thing -- a district championship. Palmyra will host the Class 3 District 7 Tournament and is seeded second behind Bowling Green.
"Winning a conference title and 20 games is nice, and they were two big goals we had at the beginning of the season," Parsons said. "But our ultimate goal is to win a district championship and to try to get to the final four. We've got a great group of seniors who we're going to miss a lot next year. We want to give them a few more games this season."