The Class 3A landscape in Southern Illinois girls hoops has changed in recent years. It isn’t just Marion, Carbondale and Mount Vernon anymore.
Four of the six SIRR Ohio teams are in 3A this year, and Carterville is back in 3A for the second season from the SIRR Mississippi.
The Lions won a regional championship for the fourth straight season last year, and for the first time in 3A. Matt Crain has increased his team’s schedule to include bigger schools.
Carterville dropped out of Marion’s season-opening tournament and will play at Salem. The Lions take on the likes of Teutopolis, Highland, Salem, Althoff Catholic and Centralia now.
“We’ve got to play schools like that if we ever want a chance of doing something in the postseason,” Crain said. “We can beat some of those teams, and we have to play them to learn that it’s the new normal. We’re going to be a 3A team now.”
Montana Taylor and Hanna Schulmeister return as senior starters for the team. Crain expects Jeniah Thompson, Abbey Crain and Megan Barton, a Carbondale move-in, to start as well.
Thompson enjoyed a big freshman campaign at forward last year.
“I believe she can dominate some games this year,” Crain said of Thompson. “She’s going to do the same thing. She’s going to get rebounds and defend and score points. She has a chance to be really good in the next couple of years if she works hard.”
Andy Sloan has averaged 22 wins per season in his five years as head coach at Benton. The Rangerettes lost Ally Gischer from last season’s 17-win squad, but should be very competitive this year.
Eb Casey returns at point guard along with forwards Zoe Carlton and Ember Milby.
“Those three are experienced,” Sloan said. “Casey has been here a long time, and she knows what we want and what we expect.”
Carlton and Milby will also go a long way toward helping the team’s more inexperienced varsity players.
“Carlton plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Sloan said. “Milby is probably as smart as anybody I’ve ever coached. It’s nice to start with those three. After that, there are a lot of question marks. We’re going to be really young. I hope that we can learn quick.”
Sloan said Carterville should be a good team in 3A and that Harrisburg, although a 2A team this year, is the easy favorite to win the predominately 3A SIRR Ohio Division.
“They will probably have a good chance to run the table,” Sloan said. “This is my sixth year, but I can’t remember a team running the table in the Ohio. Keith (Shelton) had a 3A super-sectional team at Massac. There have been some good ones there. That Harrisburg team is just loaded.”
Marialice Jenkins enters her 20th season as head coach of the Carbondale girls basketball team. She is just 16 wins shy of 300 at Carbondale.
“We’ve had a good few weeks of practice,” Jenkins said. “Our girls our catching on to things quickly. And our freshmen have an energy that maybe we haven’t had in a while. I think when you have great energy, you can live with whatever the results are. A lot of these kids are trying to do what you tell them and having a little bit of fun doing it. When you’re going into year 20, you can live with that.”
Brianna Simelton returns in the paint and Atlexus Green at guard for the Terriers this season.
“Simelton started in the post for us and did a good job,” Jenkins said. “Atlexus Green is back, and she is a good rebounder and defender. We just need to get her to shoot the ball. We are looking for a lot out of her. We have a couple freshmen that are going to have to contribute for us. We are going to have a lot of interchangeable parts.”
The Terriers will be young this season, but Jenkins is excited about the team’s prospects down the road.
“As far as scoring, we’ve only got about 15 points a game back,” Jenkins said. “We lost our three top scorers, so it is basically up for grabs. We’ve got a lot of playing time to be had, and we’re probably going to have to play nine or 10 kids consistently just to play at the pace and with the energy we’re used to. We want to cause teams trouble on both ends of the floor. We’ve got to be able to play almost controlled chaos, which could be our best friend.”