(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- For the past three seasons the Charleston Lady Bluejays have had a winning combination in the tandem of Kasuela Cooper and E'Neikqua Ewing.
This season they'll be forced to find an answer for one-half of that equation as Cooper's graduation leaves Ewing as the focal point of the Lady Bluejays offense.
"It's been Cooper and Ewing since I've been here," Charleston head coach Josh Thompson said. "They were very compatible with each other and worked very well with each other. Ewing is having to take that next step.
"Nobody came into the game saying we have to stop Ewing, it was always we have to stop Cooper and then we have to limit Ewing. This year she is going to see there is a lot more defensive game planning, people coming in to try and stop her."
The combination of the two girls provided the majority of Charleston's offense last season as Cooper led the team with 18 points per game while contributing 12 rebounds and three steals each contest.
Not far behind, Ewing finished the season averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and three steals per game.
Charleston finished last year with a 13-11 record, falling to Doniphan in the first round of the Class 3, District 1 tournament.
To replace Cooper's output, Thompson is expecting a big senior campaign from Ewing as well as increased production from the rest of his squad.
"Kasuela did a lot of really good things for us," Thompson said of Cooper. "We don't have any one person who can replace her. Instead, what we'll look at is Ewing getting a couple more rebounds a game and (senior) Dazique Gillespie scoring a few more points and getting a few more rebounds."
Thompson added he'll also look to younger girls like sophomores Sierra Frazier and Juwanna Walker to take advantage of the varsity experience they gained their freshman years.
"Frazier is taking the next step offensively and defensively and it's kids like Juwanna Walker (that's our key)," Thompson said. "So we're really going to look all around and at those upperclassmen with some of the freshmen we have and try to be a lot deeper of a team this year to replace Kasuela."
With a smaller, younger team that features only three upperclassmen, Thompson also plans to change the Lady Bluejays' style of play to accommodate their new look.
"We've been a high-low team every year because we've had those two low-post scorers," Thompson said. "This year we're trying to space the floor out more and give Ewing more room to work. We need her to stay on the floor this year."
Charleston will kick off its season tonight when they host the Woodland Lady Cardinals at 6 p.m.
DEXTER -- Coming off their first trip to the Class 4 quarterfinals since 2009, the Dexter Lady Bearcats hope a beefed up schedule this season will lead to an elusive trip to the final four.
"We want to go to the next level," Dexter head coach Chad Allen said. "We got into the sectional game two years ago and the quarterfinals this past year. We want to take that next step and go to the final four.
"With our schedule having toughened up a lot I think it will help us, especially when you look at that group we went to sectionals with a few years ago. We just didn't have a very tough schedule then."
Another major benefit to the Lady Bearcats is the return of their entire varsity roster from last season, including three girls who made the Southeast Missouri Sportswriters All-Region basketball team.
Coming back for her senior year is the Standard Democrat's reigning Player of the Year, Brittany Harris.
A first team all-stater, Harris average 16.5 points per game last year while grabbing 9.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
She'll be joined by juniors Hannah Noe, Paige Patterson and senior Katelynn Frazier as returning starters. Noe averaged 11 points and 4.4 assists per game last season while making 79 percent of her free throws.
Patterson contributed 11.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while Frazier served as the team's key ball handler. The Lady Bearcats finished the year with a 24-5 record.
"The past few years we've always been young," Allen said. "This is the first year we have mostly upperclassmen with two seniors and six juniors. These first few weeks of practice we've really been trying to get them into condition.
"We had a few setbacks just because we had a few illnesses and when you get a few illnesses it starts to set them back a little bit. They're working hard and they're definitely getting in a lot better shape. Hopefully we'll be ready to roll in a couple weeks."
Dexter will start its season when it takes part in the Farmington Tournament starting Monday.
PORTAGEVILLE -- Though they finished last year slightly under the .500 mark, the Portageville Lady Bulldogs are hoping to ride the momentum of last year's second half surge into the upcoming season.
After starting the year 4-9, the Lady Bulldogs were able to win eight of their last 12 games to finish the year with a 12-13 record.
Their season ended with an 81-52 loss to South Pemiscot in the Class 2, District 1 championship game.
Portageville returns four starters, including Taylor McCoy, Jennifer Ifland, Jenna Hawkins and Danielle Morgan while boasting a roster with only one upperclassman.
"Our goal is like every team this time of year and that is to keep playing in the post season," Portageville head coach Barry Branscum said. "We have a tough district that we play in with some very talented teams all striving for the same goals we are.
"This year we have more players than we have had in the past several years and they are all hungry to play which makes coaching a lot of fun. We really like our teams this year, both varsity and jayvee."
The Lady Bulldogs open the season Monday when they take part in the Bulldog Invitational Tournament in Steele.
BENTON -- With a young squad that gained plenty of experience last season, the Kelly Lady Hawks will look to improve on their 13-10 record.
The Lady Hawks finished last season with a 52-32 loss to West County in the opening round of the Class 3, District 3 tournament.
They return a pair of seniors in Katie Koonce and Darbe Backfisch while Payton Jones and Rachel Birk, both juniors, are the only other upperclassmen.
Other returners include sophomores Morgan LeDure, Stephanie Worth, Kristy Brucker and Samantha Ratledge. Newcomers include freshman Alexis Dock and Tori Duenne.
"My expectations this year is for my girls to play hard, have a positive attitude and to play as a team," Kelly head coach Rod McQuerter said.
Kelly will open its season Thursday, Nov. 29 when they travel to Chaffee to play the Lady Devils at 6 p.m.
CHAFFEE -- With the return of four starters the Chaffee Lady Devils enter the upcoming season looking to use experience gained by a young squad to improve on last year's 4-19 record.
"We have some very talented athletes," Chaffee head coach Darrin Pruitt said. "Although some playing varsity are freshman, they have played for a long time. We are going to be led this season by two seasoned seniors (Ellie Sigman and Adrienne Eichhorn) who know what it takes to be leaders and several juniors who saw extensive time last year."
Besides Sigman and Eichhorn, the Lady Devils return two other starters from last year in junior Elizabeth Sexton and sophomore Jordan Pruitt.
Newcomers include freshman Julia Sutterfield, Lindsey Koch, Lindsey Harrell and Hannah Seyer.
Pruitt said all four should see varsity minutes this season.
"Every day, these ladies work hard to push their teammates past any goals we set," Pruitt said. "I am looking forward to this season."
Chaffee kicked off their season on Monday with a 54-42 loss to Woodland. Sutterfield led Chaffee's effort with 12 points while Sigman added eight points to the Lady Devil's cause.
They'll host the Scott City Lady Rams Monday at 6 p.m.
SCOTT CITY -- After four years with Katie Hogan leading almost every aspect of their game, the Scott City Lady Rams will search for new leadership this season as they come off a 16-10 season.
The Lady Rams bring back a pair of starters in Alicia Kern and Lyndsie Robert while Jessica Boswell, Alexis Spriggs, Tana Tetley and Lindsey Rendleman all saw varsity action last year.
Newcomers include Natalie Woods and Abbie McAlister.
"I look to be very competitive and be a team that is tough by the end of the year," Scott City head coach Ricky Keller said. "We're going to be very competitive, but young.
"We don't have a lot of varsity experience but we have some parts that could make us alright."
Scott City will start their season Monday when they travel to Chaffee to play the Lady Devils at 6 p.m.