As the Class 2A girls basketball season gets underway on Monday, Harrisburg is considered the favorite in The Southern Illinoisan’s coverage area.
The Bulldogs won 24 games a season ago as well as a regional championship.
“I think we can go far this year,” said Harrisburg coach Jake Stewart. “I think we can win a regional and a sectional. I think we have the type of team to win a super-sectional, too. But you can get beat in the regional, too. We’re excited about the season.”
Harrisburg has shot-blocking center, Matty Hawkins, back once again. Hawkins averaged 11 points per game for the balanced Bulldogs last season.
“Matty has a chance to break the state record in blocks, barring injury or whatever, she should do that,” Stewart said. “She also has a chance to go over 1,000 points. Having her back is huge for us.”
One area coach called Lotte Miller the best point guard in the south. She averaged 12 points a night and returns for the Bulldogs as well.
“Lotte has done a great job for us at point guard, and she also has a chance to cross 1,000 points,” Stewart said. “Jess Hopson is our third and final senior, and she was our best defender last year, and she can really shoot the three. She was also our leading scorer at like 14 points per game. With those three back, their leadership has been huge in practice.”
Karsyn Davis, a 5-foot-11 swing player, averaged in double figures for Harrisburg as well last season. The Bulldogs play in the predominantly Class 3A SIRR Ohio Division, which makes the regular and postseason matchups quite a bit different.
“We won tournaments and 24 games last year, and then you go to conference play and you’re 6-4,” Stewart said. “It’s just a grind in the Ohio. Once it ends, you go to the regional, and I think our conference schedule benefits us by then.”
Stewart said to look out for Nashville, Vienna, Anna-Jonesboro, Sesser-Valier/Waltonville and Hamilton County in Class 2A this season.
The SVW squad has done nothing but win since Rick Metcalf has been the head coach. The Red Devils took home a regional championship last season.
However, the loss of Hannah Garascia and Jaylin Haley, both of whom play for Rend Lake now, will be significant.
“I’m not going to say it’s a rebuilding year; we like to say reloading,” Metcalf said. “It starts with Sami McCowen at point guard. Paige Tucker will be back. We are going to be very deep this year. I’ve got seven or eight guards.”
SVW has won a Black Diamond Conference West championship in each of the past four seasons. Things will get tougher for Metcalf’s team this year.
“On our side, it’s going to be Vienna, Goreville and Chester,” Metcalf said. “We could be fourth or fifth in preseason rankings. In the past, I’d probably just say up front that we’re the best team in the conference.”
Metcalf also said that once 2A postseason rolls around, Harrisburg will likely be at the top.
“It’s pretty easy this year,” Metcalf said. “The best 2A team in Southern Illinois is Harrisburg. They can go back and forth in 2A and 3A. They are stacked. We played them three times this summer, and they got us all three times. We only lost six games this summer.”
Hamilton County is expected to be at or near the top of the Black Diamond East this season. The Foxes are loaded with talent.
“We do have a chance to be pretty good, and this is one of the deeper teams that we’ve had,” Winemiller said. “We’ve got three seniors, and our junior class is pretty good, too.”
The Foxes finished 20-8 last year, have a bunch of experience players returning, and also received a move-in from Fairfield, Jevin Shreve. She was the MVP of the conference as a sophomore a year ago.
“To be MVP of the conference as a sophomore should say quite a bit,” Winemiller said. “She can shoot the ball, handle the ball and get to the rim. She can use either hand. She has played a lot of AAU ball, and she is very skilled on offense. When they start playing a zone to pack it in against Kaleigh (Dodson), Jevin can shoot the ball from the outside for us. She has one of the best shots I’ve watched in a long time.”
Dodson, a 5-11 forward, returns to the Hamilton County lineup as well in the post. She earned a spot on the All-South team last season. Anna Miller and Katherine Drone are back for Hamilton County as well.
“Last year was a surprise, and to win 20 games and get to share the conference, I think that group really overachieved,” Winemiller said. “Now it’s a little different, and our expectations are higher. We may be good on paper, but we’ve got to prove it. We were able to sneak up on people last year, but that won’t happen this year.”