Young MHS team banking on speed
McLouth lost three starters and another who logged several minutes for coach Keith Miller last year.
With each graduating class comes a new group the next year, but the McLouth High girls basketball team has just two seniors returning this season from last year's squad that finished 3-18.
"I think we have a lot of question marks simply for the fact we don't have a whole lot of experience," said Miller, who is entering his second year as the MHS coach. "When you lose three starters and four seniors who played a lot, you have to fill some holes."
The Bulldogs lost leading scorer Holly Kitterman, four-year starter Heaven Mills, inside player Devyn Roberts and Amanda Shaver. Shaver, who was McLouth's tallest player at 6-0, now plays at Highland Community College.
"Basically she was our only height," Miller said of Shaver. "She kept improving throughout the year. That's kind of hard to replace."
However, Miller thinks this year's squad has other qualities.
"Even though we're not tall we're more athletic," Miller said. "I think we'll be able to get up and down the floor more and press, which is what we like to do."
Seniors Rachael Thompson and Megan Howerton are the team's only seniors this season, but Thompson is the team's leading returning scorer and is a three-point threat, according to Miller.
Like Miller, Thompson noted the team's lack of height.
"We're all pretty short so we're all pretty good handlers," Thompson said. "One thing we're lacking of is height. We need to be much more aggressive because of that."
But one disadvantage can always lead to another advantage.
"We're fast," Thompson said. "We're short and quick."
Along with Thompson and Howerton, Miller expects Abby Annis, Haley Holwick and Gelia Gardner to contribute.
"She's looked really good," Miller said of Annis' ability in practice. "She moved from wing to the post this year, but she's really improved over the summer. And tough as nails. She's really going to help us inside."
And then there's Sam Farris, another wing player for the Bulldogs. She also was the team's top junior varsity three-point shooter last year.
"Sam's such a hard worker and she's a great kid," Miller explained. "You know she's going to give you everything she's got."
The team has made strides in the preseason, something Miller attributes to off-season strength and conditioning. Miller said the program wasn't in place before the 2005-06 season.
Gary Freeman, a McLouth physical education instructor, guided the athletes with the summer workouts.
"He's done a phenomenal job," Miller said. "Definitely the weight room had added another dimension that previously has not been there."
Miller expects Kansas City Christian to again be the top team in the Delaware Valley League because KCC is the defending champion, although the team lost key players from last year's team.
In fact, Miller could see Doniphan West overtaking the Panthers.
"And they're very, very young," Miller said.
Horton, with a good senior class, should be a top tier team as well, the MHS coach said.
Pleasant Ridge, Wathena, Oskaloosa and Valley Falls likely will be in the middle of the pack, with McLouth, Jefferson County North, Troy and Jackson Heights fighting it out in the lower division.
"We'd like to get up in that middle range there this year and try to make a move up to the first division in a couple years," Miller said.
As for Thompson, she's ready for the team to improve on last year's mark.
"I'm just looking forward to a good season," she said.
The Bulldogs opens the season with a DVL tournament play-in game Thursday at Wathena. Tip-off for the season opener is set for 4:30 p.m. at WHS.