CHARLESTON -- After coming close to winning a district title in each of the past three years, the Charleston Lady Bluejays enter the upcoming season confident that a fourth straight trip to the Class 3, District championship game is in their future.
"We expect to win the district title," Bluejays' head coach Josh Thompson said. "We think on paper we have the best team, but games aren't won on paper. We have to come out and work hard.
"New Madrid and Twin Rivers are going to be tough and Kennett is still going to be good. So we know we're in a dog fight, but our expectation is to finally win a district."
Working in Charleston's favor is the return of two of Southeast Missouri's best players in senior Kasuela Cooper and junior E'Neikqua Ewing.
As last year's Standard Democrat Player of the Year, Cooper averaged 22.5 points per game and 14.9 rebounds per game despite being hampered by injuries.
In Ewing, the Bluejays have a physical inside presence who controlled the paint last year for Charleston while averaging 13.7 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game.
"This is the best chance we'll probably have to win (the district) in the next few years," Thompson said. "We have Cooper whose neck-and-neck with (Scott City's) Katie Hogan for the top player in the region for the small schools and Ewing is a big player inside for us. There's not many people that can stop her."
Joining them will be newcomer Daisy Gillespie, who last season played with the Scott County Central Lady Braves and is expected to contribute immediately.
"I look for her to make a big impact for us," he said. "She can do a lot of things that we really need. She can handle the ball, she can shoot it and she plays really tough defense. She was key contributor at Scott Central last season."
After graduating four seniors last season in Taylor Duenne, Jasmine Spence, Lakeisha Wilson and Gabrielle Quinn, the Bluejays will have a pair of freshman getting significant time on the varsity level.
"We have Sierra Frazier, who's a small point guard, but she's quicker than lightning," Thompson said. "She can do a lot of things really well defensively. Another freshman Jawanna Walker has a little bit of every skill that you need.
"She can shoot, she can dribble it and she can play defense and rebound. She can do a little bit of everything which is exciting."