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Entering the 2013-2014 basketball season, the Lady Panthers will be reaping the benefits of having a small senior class last season.
Several players with varsity experience will return for Royal Valley entering this season and that has head coach Jason Grider saying the sky could be the limit in terms of potential for this team.
Of course, to reach that potential the Panther players will have to put in the work and Grider said he has seen a commitment to that since the summer months. So despite a smaller roster this season, he said that could work towards Royal Valley’s advantage.
“Our numbers aren’t huge, but it’s a real experienced group and so far practice has gone really well,” Grider said. “It’s a group that works really hard and put a lot of time in last summer to get better and I think it’s going to pay off this winter.”
The experience starts in the senior class, with Elizabeth Blevins, Clare Hanson and Sarah McKinney all returning to the varsity squad. Also, junior guards Jaycee Worrell and Leslie Schuetz bring back starting experience, while junior Kassidy Dahl and sophomore Levanna Biggoose played significant minutes in the post for the Panthers a year ago.
Grider said with so many integral players returning, there is an excitement spreading through the squad, while that experience also provides the players with a better base knowledge of Grider’s system in his second year leading this team.
The veteran players are already sharing that knowledge and understanding with the younger players, Grider said, and they have also set the tone in terms of work ethic as he noted this is a hard-nosed group that gives its all at practice.
Some younger players who could also factor into bigger roles this season include sophomore forwards AnnaLee Johnson and Kate Hanson, with Hanson contributing early last year before a knee injury ended her season.
“Getting Kate Hanson healthy is going to help us,” Grider said. “Obviously, she’s a sophomore and has a lot of learning to do, but I think she’s a kid who can help us.”
While getting contributions on defense will be key, Hanson and the rest of the sophomore class could help provide Royal Valley with a lot of depth this season.
Inexperience and youth might have plagued the Panthers at times last season, but with an experienced group leading the way this winter Grider said he expects that won’t be an issue. With the commitment these players showed over the course of the summer, there is a reason Grider said he is expecting big things from this group.
“I think any time that you put the kind of time in that they’ve put in, I think you have something invested in the program,” Grider said. “I think they have a lot invested in our program and it becomes highly motivating when you’ve put your time in and sacrificed for the program.”
With both coach and players having a better understanding of each other going into this season, Grider said there will be a focus to continue to push forward and improve each day in practice and in every game.
There will certainly be some challenging games with the changes in the league schedule. While the Panthers will play all Big Seven League teams at least once, there will be double round-robin scheduling within the upper and lower divisions, meaning Royal Valley will face Holton and Santa Fe Trail twice in the season.
There is also a strong tradition of girls basketball at ACCHS and Riverside, Grider said, so with them joining the league that will only add to the challenge. The Panthers will also face off against traditionally strong 3A squad Silver Lake in a mid-season non-league game.
As tough as the schedule may be, that is not dampening the enthusiasm surrounding this season, according to Grider. In fact, if the Panthers get some early wins and build confidence, it could work out all the better for Royal Valley.
“I think these girls have bought in and are ready to go. If we pick a couple wins up early, I think that’s going to go a long way towards telling how this season’s going to go,” Grider said.
With the personnel the Panthers have, Grider said he expects his team to be able to come out right away and play man-to-man defense and push the tempo. Establishing post play, both on offense and defense, will be key to the Panthers’ success, Grider said, and he noted efficiency there could help turn an early weakness into a strength.
“Our outside shooting is the one Achilles heel that has to come around and I think it will. We put some time in over the summer and so far we’ve done a nice job with it,” Grider said. “I thought our shot selection got a lot better last year and that will help that as we continue to get better at our shot selection and our bigs inside continue to make improvements and progress in scoring the basketball.”
Team chemistry is no issue for the Panthers and with the way these players work, with Grider noting a physicality from this group even in practice, it’s not hard to see why the coach is expecting big things. Following a 6-15 campaign a year ago, if the team can just build some confidence then he said Royal Valley could really excel and be a fun team to watch.
Royal Valley will open the season at home against Herington on Friday, Dec. 6. Games will start at 4:30 p.m.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Jaycee Worrell (G), 5’ 2”, jr.: 6.1 ppg, 3.1 steals per game
Leslie Schuetz (G), 5’ 2”, jr.: 2 apg, 2.1 steals per game
Elizabeth Blevins (G/F), 5’ 5”, sr.
Clare Hanson (G), 5’ 5”, sr.
Kassidy Dahl (C), 6’ 1”, jr.
Levonna Biggoose (F), 5’ 9”, so.