Three of the top Class 1A girls basketball teams — Goreville, Christopher and Gallatin County — will have some rebuilding to do when the season opens next week.
Goreville (19-9) from the Black Diamond Conference West advanced to the Super-Sectional last year for the first time since 2013. Repeating may be a little harder with only one returning starter in junior point guard Lexi King.
Coach Mike Helton will have to find replacements for leading scorer (11.0) and rebounder (10.5) forward Ashlyn Darnell, scoring guards Schylar Messmer and Brennie Tripp, who averaged 8.5 and 7.5 points a game, respectively, along with forward Nona Luke and Summar Albright.
“We have nine kids we expect to play a lot, so it might be a while before we see what unit might start the game,” Helton said.
Hopefully ready to step into the lineup are forwards Payton Sopczak (So.) and Breanna Stout (Jr.) as well as three seniors — forwards Tehya Payne and Kyla Pulley and guard Shayna Elms. In total Helton has three seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and four freshman competing for playing time.
“Payton had a tendency to dominate the JV games in scoring last year,” Helton said. “Our JV went 12-2 and was super competitive with everybody playing, so they’ve played together. Breanna and sophomore Kelsey Ray can also shoot the ball well, so with King getting better looks we think we have some depth in our scoring. We also have some kids who can play with some moxie and play bigger than they are, so we think we’re going to be pretty competitive.”
This will be the third year Christopher — also from the BDC-West — has fielded a standalone team after a long co-op arrangement with Ziegler-Royalton. Seiger Shurtz has been the coach for the past two seasons and under his leadership the Lady Cats have won two regional titles while posting a 33-18 record.
Christopher advanced to the sectional finals last year, but were eliminated by the Blackcats for the second straight year. Shurtz is facing the same challenges as Helton, having lost four senior starters with only 5-11 forward junior Courtney Hoppers returning.
Expected to move into the starting lineup are three juniors: forward Andrea Miller, guard Rebecca Henson and guard Jayla Williams, as well as sophomore guard Alexis Parks.
“All of the guards can play point, but for right now the focus guard will be Henson, who has three years' varsity experience and as a freshman started a few games,” Shurtz said.
The Gallatin County Lady Hawks also had the misfortune to have run into the Blackcats after winning their second regional title in the past three years and fifth since 2006.
Despite the normal transition of having to replace graduated seniors, the Lady Hawks are also making a transition at the coaching position after the passing of Robert “Radar” Patton, who had coached the Lady Hawks for the past three seasons in his second time at the helm of the girls, after coaching the boys the previous six years.
In an effort to make the transition easier, Gallatin County hired arguably the greatest player of its past in Tiffany Sauls, formerly Tiffany Williams (2004-08), who up until last season held the Lady Hawks all-time scoring record of 2,131 points.
“I played for Radar, so it’s going to be different and new and a learning experience for us, but we’re going to make the most of it and try to make him proud,” Sauls said.
Hopefully having the player, who holds the new record with 2,250 points, senior guard Hailey Chubb, who averaged 33 points a game last year and was named honorable mention all-state, will make her job a little easier. Sauls has only two upperclassmen in Chubb and junior power forward Amy Bourland, with five sophomores and four freshmen rounding out the squad.
“I will be starting Chubb, Bourland and three sophomores, so we’re a very young team,” Sauls said. “Chubb likes to bring ball down, but she is also our biggest girl, so we’re going to rotate her and sophomore Audrey Jackson. I worry about our size, but we are quick. We have strong ball handlers and rebounding is going to be biggest asset."
Centralia Christ Our Rock Lutheran also advanced to the Super-Sectional losing to Mendon Unity, 37-33, the eventual second place team. Mounds Meridian advanced to the sectional semifinal losing to Christopher while Woodlawn, who also lost to Christopher, and Ullin Century, who lost to Goreville, advanced to the regional finals.
In addition Cobden, who was eliminated by Ullin Century in the regional semifinal, is considered an up-and-coming team.