by Jeremy Benson, GrandRiverConference.com
St. Joseph Christian
St. Joseph Christian did not start the season with high expectations, at least from the media, who picked them to finish 8th. For many, the Lions playing in the GRC Championship might have been a surprise, but not to coach Erin Patrick. Before the season started, he told me that newcomers Chloe Burnham and Lexi McDaniel would be worth at least 20 more points a game. He felt that the defense was a strength the season before, but that they didn’t have consistent scoring. With Burnham and McDaniel in the lineup, the Lions went from 35 points a game to 54 a season later.
The Lions finished 21-7 and won the District Championship, their first since 2012. They lost to eventual champion Platte Valley in the sectionals but were able to compete with them before a run in the third allowed Platte Valley to pull away. In addition to the District Championship, Christian won the Platte Valley and Gilman City Tournaments and defeated eventual GRC Champion Milan by 32 in the first matchup between the two teams before falling in the rematch in the GRC Championship the following week. The Lions finished the season ranked #7 in Class 1.
Christian will not be surprising anyone this season. Burham (18.6 ppg) and McDaniel (13.6 ppg) earned 1st team all-conference and will now be entering with a full season of varsity experience. Ella Bowman (7.1 ppg) earned 2nd team all-conference and was Christian’s top defender with 3.4 blocks per game. Other key returning players include Juniors Maya Freudenthal, Jaci Jorgensen and Danika Wattenbarger. The Lions add Sophomore Maddi Blevins and Junior Taylor Parmer to a talented team. They are favorites to repeat as GRC West Champions and have a chance to bring home the GRC Title at the GRC Showcase in King City.
Coach Patrick said “Our expectations will be high to repeat as district champions and advance farther into the playoffs. We won 2 out of 3 in-season tournaments last year and would like to go 3 out of 3 this year. We would like to again earn first place in the GRC West and win the GRC championship after getting second (to Milan) last year.
I believe our fans will enjoy watching us play the style of basketball in which we compete as a team this year. Our fans should enjoy watching to see if we can improve over last season not only offensively but also defensively. We will host the PVI tournament with the 1st and 3rd Place games returning to Northwest Missouri State University this December. Our fans will be excited to watch us play right before Christmas at St. Joseph Civic Arena (against Stewartsville/Osborn) that is sponsored by the St. Joseph Sports Commission. Then play the next week in the Twelve Courts of Christmas at Hy-Vee Arena against Higbee. We will again go to the Fairfax and Gilman City basketball tournaments in January.”
North Andrew Cardinals finished 16-10 and 5-2 in the GRC West last season. The Cardinals were able to capture 3rd place in the Bishop LeBlond Tournament defeating Savannah and Consolation in the North Platte Tournament with a win over West Platte. In addition, they knocked off Stanberry in conference play after falling to them the week before in the Stanberry Tournament. The win set them up for a shot at the division title against St. Joseph Christian in their final game. Although, they were not able to win that game, the Cardinals showed that they were one of the top teams in the GRC last season.
This year, they return 83% of their scoring and look to challenge for the conference title once again. Junior Brylie Brinks was the leading scorer at 8.9 points a game. Their top four scorers return with Madison Lillard (8.3 ppg), Riley Walker (8.3 ppg) and Cassidy Brittian (5.8 ppg). Other returnees include Reagen Walker, Piper Cook, Ellie Lawrence, Autumn Rasnic and Gracie Wilmes. Newcomers for the Cardinals include Briley Rainez and Teigan Miller
Cook and Brinks were among the league leaders in the conference in free throw shooting. Among returning players, Cook is 2nd in the West at 72.7% and Brinks is 3rd at 72.0%. Lillard had a great freshman campaign from long distance finishing 2nd in the conference behind Cady Pauley of Milan with 2.5 3-pointers made per game. Brinks was first-team all-conference, Riley Walker was second-team and Lillard received honorable mention.
Terry Hopkins will be taking over as head coach for the Cardinals this season.
King City Wildkats finished 12-13 including 3-4 in conference last season. It included consolation in the Stanberry Tournament and 3rd Place in their own tournament. The Wildkats do lose Chloe Eiberger and Paisley Catlett from last year’s team, but they return 80% of their scoring including their top two scorers in Zoe Tunks (11.8 ppg) and Taryn Hunter (8.9 ppg). Tunks was 2nd team all-conference and Hunter earned honorable mention all-conference.
Other key players returning for King City are Tacee Catlett, Kaylee Roberts, Clare Staley and Kamdyn Carlson. Coach Ryan Anderson said “I expect to be competitive; we have a good mix of guards and posts that will form a strong nucleus, including two all-conference players. We return a group of experienced players that put in a lot of work in the off season, I'm excited to see it payoff in the regular season.”
Pattonsburg Panthers finished 18-9 and tied with St. Joseph Christian for first in the GRC west at 6-1 including a key victory over Stanberry avenging an earlier loss in the Albany Tournament. The Panthers will enter the season without four seniors lost to graduation. But they do return a very athletic and talented roster. Jenna Heath, a four year starter and 2nd team all-conference last season, will be one of the keys for the Panther success. Supporting Heath will three year letter winner Bessa Hoover, Junior Guard Kelsey Crabtree and a pair of very talented Sophomores, Kate Jones and Kinsley Johnson. Coach Lee Warford said, “I think that once everyone establishes their role and our two sophomores figure out the impact that they can have we could have a solid basketball team come January and February.”
Worth County Tigers return their entire starting lineup from last season including Ali Brown (7.0 ppg) who earned honorable mention All-Conference. Other than Justina Wimer, who played a few minutes off the bench, the Tigers return the entire team from last season. For Worth County, it was not a season that fans have grown accustomed to. They were only able to win 2 games going 2-22 overall and 1-6 in conference. But having the core of the team back this year will be key in rebuilding, especially Brown, who continues to be a force in the post, but has also improved her outside game. Kynah Steele (5.3 ppg) was out half of the year last year due to an injury, but also was a key player in the post and is expected to be a key contributor. Taylor Sanders (2.4 ppg) is looking to provide some outside scoring, but can also handle the ball when needed.
Newcomer Rylee Ruckman is an incoming freshman this year. She was the main ball handler in junior high and will be expected to contribute immediately as a freshman.
Coach Tiffany Bliley said, “My expectation for the upcoming season is to continue building and improving our program. I think that we will be more competitive than last year as we are returning everyone and gaining a new ball handler. The girls have put in a lot of time and hard work over the summer to continue getting better. As long as we stay healthy and without injury, I think that we will be able to contend this year.”
Stanberry Bulldogs had high expectations last season. They were coming off conference and district championships. They were picked to win the GRC West and were favorites to capture another district title. They were returning all-conference players Lexi Craig, Sadie Runde and Tarynn Mattson. The Bulldogs had a very good season finishing 17-7 and 5-2 in conference, but unfortunately, they fell short of their ultimate goals. They did win the King City Tournament and were co-champions of their own tournament. The King City title was their 5th consecutive. They finished 2nd in the Albany Tournament and Districts. In the final rankings, they received votes in the Class 1 state poll.
Now, Stanberry is looking to rebuild. Craig, Runde and Mattson have all graduated along with Astasia Brown. The Bulldogs do return Amelia Wallce, who averaged 10.4 ppg last season, for her junior campaign. Other key returning players are Katie Angle and Kiley Mattson along with newcomer Lindsey Hailey. But if Stanberry is going to win games this season, they will have to have some players step up to replace 68% of the scoring lost with the departure of their seniors.
Coach Taylor Wendt said that “This season we are focusing on making the adjustments needed to make this team successful. We will have a different set up than years past and it’s something we will all have to learn to adjust to. It will be a learning year for some, but we look to still be competitive and have fun while doing it!”
Last year was a season of attrition for the Albany Warriors. In games that they were able to actually play, they were 0-17 and 0-5 in conference play. They had to forfeit a couple others due to lack of players. They were finally able to have 5 players to play their final two games but did not have the talent or the depth to keep up with other teams.
This season, Albany returns their entire team. However, they are still young. Cory Worrell is their only senior. Abby Troncin (7.3 ppg) and Addisyn Crawford (7.0 ppg) were the leading scorers for the Warriors last season as sophomores. They look to improve upon that during their junior season. Albany also adds five freshman to the team which will allow them to have more depth.
Coach Jeffrey Epperley said, “We expect to use the individual skills we developed last year to practice and play as a team. By adding in five freshmen, we were able to get a lot accomplished over the summer and will continue to get better as the season progresses.”
North Harrison Lady Shamrocks struggled in their initial season in the GRC going 7-20 and 1-5 in conference play. They were able to capture consolation in the Gilman City Tournament when they defeated a Gilman City team that they had lost to earlier in the season. The Lady Shamrocks graduated three players including leading scorer and honorable mention all-conference Camden Castleberry (10.3 ppg). Other players that graduated were Erin Virtue and Karley Koch.
Jayliegh Robins, who also earned honorable mention all-conference is the leading returning scorer at 8.3 ppg. She will be joined by Halle Morgan, Jaci Davis, Trendi Johnson, Kira Robertson and Carmon Fordyce. Coach Aaron Long said “We will have a fair amount of on court experience. Hopefully that can result in controlled and composed possessions on both ends of the floor.”
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