MIDWAY: The last remnants of Midway’s 2009 state championship team left with the graduation of Toi Gober and Dianna Jones.
So this year’s Pantherette squad is chock full of unknowns.
Guard Kandace Byrd and post player Andria Farley are back in their starting roles, but Midway will rely on a talented group of juniors, Midway coach Todd Monsey said.
“None of them are superstars, but they all fill an important role,” he said.
The Pantherettes will look to get the ball up and down the floor to account for being slightly undersized, a similar style they used last season when they reached their fourth straight regional tournament.
“We’ve going to do some things differently this fall because we are so new and unproven on the varsity level,” Monsey said. “The kids are very committed and don’t want to be the first group here that isn’t successful in a long time.”
UNIVERSITY: The Lady Trojans enter the second year of coach Trey Lloyd’s tenure with a senior-heavy roster. University was 3-26 last year and missed the playoffs again, but a roster loaded with five seniors will help matters.
Junior guard Key’Ashia Maladdie has been University’s most consistent scorer through two tough seasons, and she figures to be the focal point of the offense again this year. The Lady Trojans have four starters back, and senior forward Tamira Langston will be relied upon heavily in a hybrid role in the paint.
WACO HIGH: The Lady Lions went 15-17 and probed into the playoffs last year, and they welcome first-year coach Ross Barber to the mix, the second coach in as many years.
Barber must deal with the loss of the Lady Lions’ two best players from last year, Tianna Cobb and Ashley Bean, both of whom graduated. Waco High returns a pair of accomplished starters in Jade’ Carroll and Shamiya Blake, both of whom are 6-foot-1 post players. Junior Armoni Pittman takes over at the point and will lead an offense that Barber thinks will be faster than any in recent memory.
“Our big thing is we’re going to have to score in transition and get out and run the floor,” Barber said.
HILLSBORO: The Lady Eagles have posted back-to-back winless seasons in district, but that could change this year.
Junior guard Megan Washington returns from a strong sophomore year to lead Hillsboro, but it’ll be tough to make the playoffs with such a strong district.
WEST: West returns two starters from a playoff team that went 6-4 in District 8-3A. Four-year letterman Lacey McKenzie and Paige Snokhaus both had prominent roles last year and will anchor a team transitioning to a more up-tempo offense.
The Lady Trojans have been using a faster pace in its JV ranks over the past few years. As a result, the fresh recruits are used to the run-and-gun style coach Kevin Zuehlke plans to put in place. Over the past few years, Zuehlke has relied more on a slower set offense.
Brittany Chupik and Kara Kolar both have varsity experience and will be expected to bolster a roster with just four total returnees.
CHINA SPRING: One coaching adage is the best thing about freshmen is that they’re sophomores the next year.
Not many coaches know that better than China Spring coach Kristi Mize, who was at the helm of one of the youngest teams around last year.
“I have a lot of freshmen and sophomores that don’t think they’re freshmen and sophomores mentality-wise,” Mize said. “I told them at the end of the year that next year starts now. I’m excited that they have a year of varsity experience instead of coming off the JV.”
Mollie Kinlaw, Katie Andrie, Marissa Martin and Re’Elle Miller are the “backbone,” Mize said, of the still young but experienced squad. Upward movement won’t be easy in this difficult district, but the Lady Cougars figure to be stronger this season.
CONNALLY: The Lady Cadets finished with just two district wins a season ago but have the athleticism and experience to add to that total this season.
Coach Becca Sams said the team is looking for a big year from junior post Shuntay Raglin.
Raglin is “very talented,” Sams said. “We need to increase her load in the post.”
Raglin along with seniors Paula Smith and Shaquel Wilson can give teams problems inside, pulling defenses away from a quick backcourt.
Sams also expects a good season from senior Ashley Robinson.
GATESVILLE: The Lady Hornets were 21-9 last year and finished a game out of the playoffs in District 19-3A. With a big senior class, the goal is to get over that hump this year.
Gatesville lost three seniors from last year, but McKamie Place, the team’s best scorer, never played due to an injury. Three starters return in Kaitlin Poe, Skye Truss and imposing post Glynna Johnson, whose length in the middle will be a matchup problem for every team in district.
Experience is a strength for the Lady Hornets this year. A deep bench will allow coach Chris Carroll room to try new things and keep his starters fresher late in the season.
LA VEGA: After losing the Super Centex Player of the Year in post Porsha Roberts, La Vega will rely on a mix of veterans and newcomers to get back into the playoffs.
New Lady Pirates coach Amy Gillum, a La Vega graduate, will have three seniors back in guards Brittany Perales and Shawnequa Norwood, along with post Faith Gibson, and brings a renewed focus on pressuring opponents.
“You can’t replace (Roberts),” Gillum said. “She did so much and I really respect her as a player, but my main focus is defense. That’s going to be the key for us to win.”
Gillum said a strong freshman class will supplement the senior leaders and provide future success. Part of that future is now, however, as two freshmen are expected to start.
LORENA: It’s hard to imagine an area team with more a more legitimate road to the state tournament than Lorena. The Lady Leopards were ranked No. 6 in the state last year when they took a slim defeat to No. 4 Fairfield in the regional final to end their year.
With 10 of 12 varsity players back from a 29-6 team, including all five starters, expectations are through the roof. Not that state is on coach Rodney Gee’s mind.
“It’s not anything we’re going to talk about,” Gee said. “We’re going to talk about getting better every day.”
That shouldn’t be hard. The starting backcourt of first-team Super Centex guard Katie Sampson and Super Centex Newcomer of the Year Summer Dolezel is as stout as any in the state. Both averaged north of 10 points per game. And while size is at a premium, 6-foot forward Erin Sims is a force in the paint.
ROBINSON: It could be a rebuilding season for the Rockettes.
Robinson has a new coach in Doug Hunt after Brenda Gomez, who led Robinson to a state title in 2009, left for Belton.
Graduation also hit Robinson hard, as first-team Super Centex guard Mackenzie Roach and Kayla Hines, the last two key contributors from the state championship squad, and Shanna Brown all departed.
The Rockettes would do well to take a page out of its volleyball team’s book. That group was expected to take a step back as well after heavy losses because of graduation, but advanced to the same round of the playoffs as last season.
FAIRFIELD: One of the Lady Eagles’ biggest tests this season may be managing expectations. Fairfield made a run to Austin last year and a return is possible with all the talent returning.
Fairfield’s offense is potent and can score in multitude of ways. Junior Jasmine Griffin and senior Kathleen Chappell were first team all-district and will be key to another deep playoff run.
Six-foot sophomore Bree Bossier and fellow classmate Tiara Tatum could have big roles to fill as well.
GROESBECK: The Lady Goats have nowhere to go but up.
Groesbeck struggled through a three-win season a year ago but has some experience returning.
Deshontay Jackson will be the leader of this team as one of five seniors returning. Sophomore JaCoya McCullen is a rising star and will have an increasing role on both sides of the floor.
MEXIA: A third-place tiebreaker loss ended Mexia’s season a year ago.
Coach Randy Barger said the team really learned from that loss, and competing in such a tough district has improved the team.
Mexia will be limited in practice time early with other athletic commitments but this year’s team returns the talent and experience to take the Lady Blackcats back to the playoffs.
First team all-district player Ashley Johnson, along with Breachelle Beachum, Ariel Ballard and Amy Johnson, are all junior returning starters.
Johnson and senior Taylor Ballard have developed into the leaders of the team.
AXTELL: Axtell’s youth last year will pay dividends this winter.
The Lady Horns return seven, including six seniors, from a squad that just missed the playoffs last year. Peyton Downs (8 points, 3 rebounds) and junior Courtney Doyle were second-team all-district selections, while point guard Sierra Harriman has improved her 3-point shot.
With the experience, coach Todd Lange expects to have an outside shot at the district title — Grandview returns nearly everyone — and the Lady Horns to be a favorite for a playoff position.
CLIFTON: The Lady Cubs made some huge strides last year. Clifton qualified for the playoffs and won its first playoff game in nine years despite a roster with zero combined games of playoff experience.
The size may still be lacking, but the experience level is rising. Four starters are back: Dakota Mayr, Paige Culp, Payton Odom and Halie Applegate return, and Taylor Luckett is the tallest of the bunch at 5-foot-8.
With size at a premium, Clifton’s approach will stay the same as last year’s successful formula that led to a 24-win season: a smothering defense and an up-tempo offense.
WHITNEY: The Lady Wildcats will miss Super Centex Athlete of the Year Robin Wimberly and the rest of a quality senior class, but the cupboard isn’t bare.
Senior Cierra Rumfield and 6-3 junior Erika Brown should provide plenty of experience on the inside while the Lady Wildcats develop their backcourt.
Coach Robin Bonner said the young guards have plenty of athleticism but need to learn how to handle pressure.
Sophomore Jennifer Geren is one of those guards the team is counting on. Bonner said Geren can shoot the ball, but her ability to attack the basket could be what sets her apart.
BRUCEVILLE-EDDY: Not many teams in the area have the young talent that Bruceville-Eddy has returning. With one senior in the starting lineup, the present and the future could be really special for this group.
Junior Whitney Doyen is an excellent scorer, and sophomore Shelby Friudenberg is an exceptional athlete.
Senior Maggie Hawkins will provide plenty of leadership and will contribute on both ends of the court.
CRAWFORD: With seven of 10 players back from a district champion and regional tournament appearance, expectations are high in Crawford.
“We feel like we have a better idea of what our kids can do,” Crawford coach Brandon Ely said. “We had three freshmen that we didn’t know what they could or couldn’t do. We had hopes, but we didn’t know for sure.”
Kirsten Goodwin, a first-team Super Centex honoree, is back to help in the post, while Kait Westerfeld also adds a scoring punch and leadership, Ely said.
Annie Dunlap, Jordyn Villa and Ellen Whitney are also expected to be key contributors.
Ely said he expects the district to be difficult to navigate, since “nobody really graduated more than one really good player,” so he plans for the Lady Pirates to stick to the same system they used last year to continue their success.
MARLIN: Claretta Manigo, who coached Marlin for eight years before stepping aside for the last two, is back on the Lady Bulldog sideline, and she’ll have some key pieces to work with.
DaShondria Davis is one of the area’s top players in the post, while point guard Tekerria Gude gives Marlin a steady hand. The Lady Bulldogs will press and look to overwhelm opponents with their athleticism.
“We’ve got two 6-footers and a 5-11 girl,” Manigo said. “I can brag about our size and speed.”
The biggest difference from last year is the Lady Bulldogs won’t quite have the same depth. Manigo said their rotation will likely only go eight players deep.
McGREGOR: McGregor just seems to reload at the post position. Two years ago it was Super Centex Player of the Year Sha Brown, and the 6-foot-2 Danielle Brisby enters her senior year as a presence to pay attention to on the low block.
The Lady Bulldogs finished second in district last year but lost to Clifton in the first round of the playoffs.
McGregor coach Kim Johnson returns three starters in Brisby, Kayleigh Ripley and Hailey Reineke. Lori Jones steps off the bench to fill the void left by Bethanie Najera, and Johnson pulled Latecia Irons off the JV to be the fifth starter.
All five have the ability to score, so much so that Johnson is counting on all five to contribute 10-15 points per game. McGregor’s strength will be defense this year, but quickness is also something Johnson is counting on to guide McGregor back to a length postseason run.
ROSEBUD-LOTT: The Lady Cougars posted a single win in District 16-2A last year, but there’s some hope for a few more this winter.
Coach Matt Sebek returns two seniors, but expects a few underclassmen to play key roles. Sebek will have to find a replacement for all-district player Stephanie Greger.
District 15-1A Division I
BOSQUEVILLE: The Lady Bulldogs lost most of their offensive production to graduation, so new scorers will need to emerge before a tough district season begins.
Junior Ciara Williams should do well with more opportunities, and senior Tritne Crowden has proven to be a leader.
MOODY: The Lady Bearcats’ present as well as their future look really optimistic.
After a winless district season a year ago, coach Kelly Stewart said her young team has improved and has experience to lean on.
“We should be a pretty good defensive team,” Kelly Stewart said. “We’re a lot quicker this year and have a little more depth.”
The Lady Bearcats return all their starters, including sophomores Leslie Stewart, Quincy Hadley, Courtney Wilson and Jillian Schmidt.
VALLEY MILLS: A year in Michael Kusler’s system paid dividends for the Lady Eagles late last year, making Valley Mills a team to watch this winter.
Three starters return from a 4-6 team in district, including newcomer of the year Delany Baum. Six-foot Sarah Balch was a first-team all-district selection and Kristan Veteto showed a lot of promise. It’ll take a bit of luck to push through district and make the playoffs, but Valley Mills could find its way into the mix.
District 16-1A Division I
MART: New coach Jerry Hoffman inherits an experienced squad that has the pedigree of two straight district titles under its belt.
The Lady Panthers aren’t blessed with a wealth of size, as 5-foot-9 Kaymee Gooden, a first-team Super Centex honoree as a sophomore, is their strongest player with height. Cheyenne Goodnight will be a cornerstone in the backcourt.
Hoffman said she’s never had much height to work with in a number of coaching stops, so she expects the Lady Panthers to play a fast full-court style.
Mart got a bit of a late start because of winning the volleyball district title, but Hoffman doesn’t believe that will be a huge problem in the long term.
“I’ve had teams before that have been in midseason form at the beginning of the season, and that didn’t work out so well,” Hoffman said. “Being in the situation that we’re in, I can’t say I’m not concerned, but we’ll catch up pretty quick.”
REICHER: The Lady Cougars were one game away from the postseason last winter. Coach David Hurtado expects them to take the next step this year.
“We got a year underneath our belts playing in 4A,” he said.
Reicher’s still a young team with just two seniors, but one of them is four-year starter Kaila Lancaster, who led Reicher in scoring last season. Top rebounder Sarah Beth Toben is back, while freshman Shyan Schulte’s athleticism could make an instant impact.
The Lady Cougars should compete for the playoffs, but state finalist Tyler T.K. Gorman is the favorite in the district.