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by Mark Cheffey
Last year’s Lady Panther varsity basketball went through some ups and downs but this year’s quad is hoping to build from the experience this season.
“It was definitely a roller coaster,” said Coach Alex Brandenburg, who, during his first year with the team, had to deal with COVID-19 as well as key injuries, while trying to get to know his players.
The Lady Panthers ended with a 8-14 record, but finished strong by reaching the district championship game.
“We were fortunate. We had girls who were really hard working and put a lot of time in, and I think that’s what showed at the end of the season, when we were hitting our stride,” Brandenburg said.
There were some key losses to graduation, and this year’s squad is dominated by underclassmen, but Brandenburg is looking forward to having a key player who missed all of last season in Jansen Juette, a senior guard, who is now 100 percent healthy and ready to play.
Her presence on the court is something we need as far as not only what she brings as a player, but her leadership on the court is huge for us. So, we’re excited to have her back,” Brandenburg said.
And, while the team is young with only two seniors and a junior, there is some experience, due to some of the younger players getting floor time last year due to injuries.
“While these girls had some ups and downs last year as any young player does, they were able to work through them and we’ve already seen differences in these players this year with a year of experience,” Brandenburg said. “While that was hard for them at times, it’s going to pay off for them here down the stretch.”
Key players returning this year include Abbey Redd, a junior guard and Taytum White, a sophomore guard.
Coming into the varsity mix are Jaynee Durst, a senior forward, sophomores, Bella McBride, Alaina Loman, Candra King and Ashley Bode, and freshmen, Sydney Compton and Clare Williams.
“These girls can do a lot for us, and we’re excited to see them,” said Brandenburg who likes the inside game players like King, Bode and Durst can bring, while the outside players take aim.
“I feel the girls we have can shoot the ball, and are shooting with more confidence,” Brandenburg said. “We’ve got more of a mix of girls, who can shoot from the outside with more confidence.”
Yet, defense will be the main focus for the team in making sure they stay in every game, especially early on.
“I think the offence will come, especially over time,” Brandenburg said. “I like our defensive intensity, and they communicate and these are things, as a coach, you want them do well.”
Brandenburg said the team was able to benefit from having an actual off-season and summer.
“It was nice being able to have a normal summer and a normal fall and getting an opportunity just to be around the girls,” Brandenburg said. “As a coaching staff, it was great to see the girls play and see what they are capable of in a game setting.
“And we were also able to get to know them, which helps us communicate with them better.”
And, what was learned was the team has good mixture of inside and outside players with size, quickness and ability.
“I feel like our program has some high IQ players, girls who like to play basketball and bring a lot to the floor,” Brandenburg said. “I’m excited about how the year goes, because we’re in a good spot right now,”Brandenburg said. “I feel we’re ready to compete.”
Looking to the competition, Brandenburg said the Clarence Cannon Conference starts with the reigning champion Macon Tigers, but that South Shelby and Centralia are in the mix, as is rival, Monroe City.
“No matter who’s up or who’s down, it’s always going to be a game,” Brandenburg said of Monroe City.
Brandenburg said he and the players look forward to having Illinois games back on the schedule and that road contests against strong programs in Mendon-Unity and Quincy Notre Dame will be “good yard sticks” for seeing where the team is early on.
This year’s schedule also includes two new opponents at Elsberry to start the season Nov. 23, and later to North Point, a new school in Wentzville.
Gone is the Knox County game, but MSHSAA expanded the maximum number of games to 26.
Brandenburg is assisted by Julie Thower and Hailey Nierman, both back from last season.
Seeing action on the junior varsity squad will be Loman and McBride, along with sophomores, Ava Weiman, Jaelyn Chandler and Avery Compton, and freshmen, Madi Fessenden, Chloe Chamberlain and Jaeda Parker.
11/23 at Elsberry
11/30 Mark Twain
12/6-11 M.C. Tournament
12/14 at QND
12/17 at Unity (Ill.)
1/3-8 Highland Tourn.
1/11 at North Port
1/14 at Centralia 6 p.m.
1/17-22 Lenzini Tourn.
1/25 at Brookfield
2/1 at Clark County
2/4 South Shelby
2/8 at Monroe City
2/10 Bowling Green
2/15 at Hannibal 6 p.m.
2/18 Highland 6 p.m.