By Karl Younkman
The Wellington Daily News
The exciting and rich tradition of Sumner County girls basketball will no doubt be built upon at the area high schools this season. We take a look at several of the teams and ask the head coaches for their insights.
Eric Adams returns to Wellington to coach the Lady Crusaders after spending last season coaching at South Haven and taking the Cardinals to the 1A state
tournament. Adams knows he has five very good seniors on his squad this year but he’s also aware of how young the rest of the team is.
“For a lot of the girls it will be their first varsity experience,” said Adams. Most of the girls participated in summer basketball. “We played 20-25 games this summer and I was impressed with how long and athletic this team can be. They really defended well and understood that our best offense will be our full court defense,” said Adams. “They really know how to lock you down defensively and get out on the break and score. Very unselfish group as well.”
The seniors returning are 5’9 Jaedyn Ledesma 5’9 Avery Lewellen, 5’7 Holly Wright, 5’6 Carlie McComb and 5’3 Kelsey Whaley. Catie Williams Shelbie Wright and Julia Peck are juniors and Peyton Witham and Taylor Zimmerman are sophomores. Three freshman join the squad also, Lauryn Snipes, Auni Williams, and Tayland French.
With the season underway, Adams was asked how he sees the AVLCTL Div. IV shaping up. “Andale is still the team to beat in my opinion,” offers Adams. “They just keep reloading up there. Clearwater will have a player of the year candidate in Bryna Vogel. She is a special player that can play facing the basket or post you up.”
About his own team, Adams guarantees that the effort will always be there. “We have kids that have worked their tails off this summer and really seem to like playing for one another,” Adams said. “Effort and intensity will never be a problem with this group.”
Mike Heater takes over at South Haven this year and is the 4th coach in as many years at school. The Lady Cardinals lost 6 varsity players off of last years state team. “Our success will be dependent upon last year’s role players stepping into more significant roles and how quickly the girls learn a new system this season,” coach Heater said.
On the perimeter, Heater expects scoring from Paige Turek and Kayley Lathers while inside the paint Baylee Tanner, Bayley Wilkey and freshman Mikayla Hawkins will carry the load. “Monica Harris is an athletic slasher who can score inside and out and off the dribble,” Heater said. “Chloie Ralls and newcomer DezaRay Blaylock will handle point guard duties and defensively we will pressure the basketball in the full court and half court.”
Page 2 of 3 - Over in Caldwell, Cory Ward is serving his 15 year as coach of the Lady Bluejays and returns all 5 of his starters from last year’s team that tied for 1st in the South Central Border League with an 8-2 record. “We have some depth off the bench also,” coach Ward said. “Experience will not be a problem.”
Seniors Tyann Isaacs and Kambree York, both double digit scorers from a year ago will join 6’0 Rachel Arnold, Lexie Rice, and junior Ileena Arnett in the starting lineup for the Lady Bluejays. Carli Ward, Grace Lebeda, and Tori Bardsley provide the depth coach Ward speaks of.
Coach Ward wants to improve the scoring totals of his team this season. “We need to run the floor better this year and be more consistent on half court offense,” said Ward. “Our shooting percentage can hurt us. As for defense, we will pressure from start to finish.”
Wards goals for the team include returning to the state tournament. “We need to give ourselves an opportunity for the league championship and put ourselves in position to return to state,” said Ward.
The Conway Springs Lady Cardinals return only one starter from last year’s club and that player, 6’0 Sara Echelberry, is only a junior. Senior Heather Koester is the only other returnee for head coach Ryan Rusco.
“We will be young and inexperience, but we have potential for great improvement,” coach Rusco said. “Echelberry has a chance to be one of the top players in the league, if not in class 3A.”
Conway Springs, of the Central Plains League, expects the toughest competition in an otherwise equal and deep league, to come from Garden Plain and Trinity Academy of Wichita.
Dixie Brewster is coaching in her 8th year at Argonia High and boasts a superb record of 147-25 with the Lady Raiders. The veteran coach’s overall record is 327-102. Argonia finished tied for 1st with Caldwell in the SCBL last season.
“We are looking forward to having an experienced group of upperclassmen,” coach Brewster said. “We were plagued with injuries last year and it gave our younger players a chance to see lost of playing time.”
The Lady Raider returning seniors are 5’10 Haylea Hessman, 5’7 Cori Drouhard, 5’5 Shelby McCoy, and 5’4 Olivia Brantley. Other returning lettermen are Faith Gaddie, Rebekah Fitch, and Tori Jordan.
“Haylea and Rebekah led the team in scoring and defense respectively last season,” coach Brewster said. “Faith is a talented scorer and Cori adds depth at the post position. Shelby McCoy was injured on a hustle play and missed the second half of last season.” Argonia’s freshman class gives Brewster depth this season. “The freshman are a talented class and it will be nice to have good numbers in the upcoming year.”
Page 3 of 3 - Brewster points to her team’s work ethic as it’s biggest strength. “They have a competitive spirit, will to win and are defensive minded as well,” said Brewster. “We just have to play well consistently, be strong with the ball, and recognize game situations.”
With the season underway, the girls look forward to continuing support from all across Sumner County.