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Harrisburg's Karsyn Davis drives against Carterville's Jeniah Thompson during the Bulldogs win over the Lions in the championship game of the Benton Rangerette Christmas Classic last season in Benton.

You can’t coach what you wish you had or once had. But if Harrisburg’s Jake Stewart thinks every once in a while about last year’s 31-1 team that was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Class 2A poll most of the season, it’s certainly understandable.

In fact, Stewart flashed back to last February when he showed the program’s nine incoming ninth graders a tape the other day.

“It was our sectional game with Nashville,” he said. “Looking back on it, at the time, you’re just coaching. But when you watched that team play, you saw how much fun they had. I told the freshmen, ‘This is what real basketball looks like.’

“We didn’t get to the ending we wanted, but you can’t take away 31 wins.”

Now comes the hard part: The encore, made harder by absences Stewart wasn’t anticipating.

Being without point guard Lotte Miller and 6-1 center Matty Hawkins was hard, but he knew that was happening. Miller, a pure leader, is presently the sixth man for Parkland College's team that’s ranked 18th in NJCAA Division II. Hawkins has helped the volleyball team at Trinity International University win 24 matches, leading it in blocks.

Even without Miller, Hawkins and sharp-shooting guard Jessica Hopson, Stewart still felt he had a deep enough team to make another long postseason run. Then late in the offseason, the Bulldogs took another hit, losing 6-0 Lydia Miller and 5-10 Lauren McDaniel to injuries.

McDaniel will miss the season and Miller could be back late in the season.

“We had to take the first week back at practice to figure out who would take their spots and what kind of style we’d play,” Stewart said. “We anticipated having Lydia and Lauren in the starting lineup. But we’ve made some adjustments, and I still feel we could be a pretty good team.”

That’s because the cupboard isn’t totally bare, even after graduation and injuries. Harrisburg still has 5-11 Karsyn Davis, the third-leading scorer on last year’s team. Davis will be the centerpiece this season, turned loose to flash her all-around game.

Davis can score while facing the bucket, has the range to hit 3s and can also overpower a smaller defender in the post.

“I think she’s one of the best returning players in the deep south, if not all of the south,” Stewart said. “We’re going to learn on her a whole lot.”

Madeline Rider (5-9, sr.) also returns at forward, while Brooke Meylor (5-6, sr.) brings her good shooting touch to the lineup this year at guard. Meylor would have started for a lot of other teams last season, but was a role player behind the likes of Miller and Hopson.

Oddly enough, the Bulldogs find themselves in the position of having more seniors this season than last. But they will field a team with considerably less experience and not as much talent. However, Stewart still has the same goals.

“Our goal every year is to win 20 games and compete for a regional title,” he said.

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