DEXTER -- Entering the 2009-2010 basketball season, not much was expected of the Dexter Lady Bearcats. After all, the Lady Bearcats had lost four starters and a majority of the offense from last season's fourth place team in Class 4. Fortunately for Dexter the lone returning starter was Abbie Warren.
A senior, Warren led the team with 16.4 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game. But her value was much more than just points and rebounds as she mentored a team made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores to a 15-10 record against a difficult schedule. In doing so, Warren was named the Standard Democrat's Girl Player of the Year.
Coming into the season it was no secret who Dexter's "go-to" girl would be. As a junior, Warren averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds a game for a 28-2 squad that sent four seniors into the college basketball ranks. As the lone returner, both Dexter coaches and opposing teams knew Warren would be getting the ball.
"Since we only had two seniors and we lost a lot from last season, we knew that Abbie was the only one coming back with a lot of experience," said Dexter coach Chad Allen. "We knew we would be relying on her a lot and she definitely came through. She averaged the most points for us and the most rebounds. She was just a workhorse."
While many see only the product displayed during the season, much of the hard work put in by Warren and the rest of the Lady Bearcats to improve came during the summer. The team used that time to get the many underclassmen up to speed and to prove those expecting a down year wrong.
"At the beginning of the summer it was hard at first because we were such a young team and we had lost five seniors," Warren said. "We worked hard during the summer and all throughout the year and the coaches really pushed us hard and we got to be a decent team. It was a lot of fun getting to be one of the older players and being one of the role models you can say."
However when the season arrived, things didn't start as planned. Playing in the tough Farmington Invitational, and coming in as the returning champs, Dexter was beaten in the first round by eventual Class 5 state champion Incarnate Word 80-22. They were then beaten by Jackson (61-44) and Oakville (63-30) and the Lady Bearcats were at 0-3 with things looking bleak.
"We started off shaky," Warren said. "We played Jackson, Incarnate Word and had a real tough schedule but as the year went on you could tell everyone improved and got better. We went into the gym and worked hard every day to try and get better and the coaches never lost faith in us and kept pushing us to earn it."
While the Dexter coaches never lost faith, neither did Warren. The senior took an even bigger leadership role to help the young Lady Bearcats through the adversity.
"Her leadership on and off the court was just amazing," Allen said. "Early on when we weren't doing so well, she talked to the younger ones and got them working hard and made them a lot better."
"I had faith in my teammates and my teammates had faith in me," Warren said. "We worked hard together. I enjoyed being the leader out there. I found it cool to know all the girls looked up to me and trusted me to play good out there."
Warren and the rest of the team did play well as Dexter went into Christmas winning six of their next eight games. The wins included a third place finish in the Lady Royals Holiday Classic where Warren was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Dexter continued their hot play after Christmas, winning six of their next seven games, including wins over Kennett (59-50) and Marquette (62-57) in the Notre Dame Shootout, a win Warren said was her most memorable of the season.
"(The Shootout) always have good teams from St. Louis up there and everyone thought we were going to lose that game by a landslide but we got to go into overtime and beat them," Warren said. "That was a neat thing to do."
One of the reasons Dexter was becoming successful was the play of Warren, who had established herself as the focal part of the offense along with freshman post player Brittany Harris.
"We knew if we could get the ball inside to (Abbie) she is hard to stop," Allen said. "She scores at will inside and if she doesn't score she usually gets the rebound. With her and Brittany Harris in (the paint), we knew we had to get the ball inside."
While Warren was looked at to score, she said that isn't her favorite part of the game.
"The girls looked inside to get me the ball and did a good job of feeding me the ball," Warren said. "I enjoy rebounding, it is probably my favorite thing to do, crash the boards."
That was never more evident than on Feb. 18 in her final regular season game against Twin Rivers at Broseley. Warren had a career night, scoring 27 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in Dexter's 64-36 win over the Lady Royals.
Warren and the Lady Bearcats saw their season come to an end eight days later when they lost to eventual Class 4 runner-up Notre Dame in the district championship game. As was the case most of the season, Warren led her team with 12 points and nine rebounds.
With her basketball career now over, Warren is looking ahead to the future. A standout volleyball player as well, Warren will play volleyball for Mineral Area Community College next year.
"I'm very excited about (playing at MAC)," Warren said. "I know that Meghan Dohogne from Notre Dame is also going there so I think we'll have fun, getting to know each other better. I love volleyball and the coach is a real sweet guy and I think I will have a good time up there."
Even though she is leaving basketball behind she will take with her many fond memories.
"It was really neat to be on a team that got to go to the final four," Warren said. "I find it such an honor to play for two of the best coaches around (Allen and assistant coach Eric Sitze) and they never lost faith in us or lost trust. All the girls I've played with have been so much fun to be around. We will be lifelong friends."