By JUSTIN RAINS
Even though some local girls’ athletic programs are still playing volleyball, girls’ basketball season kicks off today in the Dogwood Circle.
Last season, the Neches Lady Tigers cut down the nets once again, but will have to replace five seniors, including all-everything Roddricka Patton.
Slocum advanced to the regional tournament, and returns a host of players in 2012, while Frankston, Cayuga and Grapeland will all also being hoping for a return to the postseason.
Palestine, Westwood and Elkhart will be hoping to return to the postseason after missing the playoffs last season.
Below is a preview of local girls’ basketball teams heading into this season. Last season’s record is in parentheses, where available.
PALESTINE LADYCATS (11-17)
The Palestine Ladycats missed the playoffs in 2011-2012, a year after sharing the district title in coach Joseph Baker’s first season on the bench.
But, Palestine returns loads of experience from last year’s squad, led by two-time district Defensive Player of the Year Dana Whitehead. Whitehead averaged 19 points, six rebounds and five steals per game last season.
Also returning is point guard Paradyse Page (14 ppg, 5 spg).
Baker said he was encouraged by the team’s depth at the post position, and expects his defense to create offense with fast-break opportunities.
However, the Ladycats are thin in the backcourt, which could cause problems late in the season.
SEASON OPENER: 10 a.m. today, at Elkhart
WESTWOOD LADY PANTHERS (6-20)
The Westwood girls’ basketball team has one thing going for it that Westwood teams of the past haven’t quite had: Experience.
WHS coach Brandi McEnturff said she expects one of her team’s major strengths to be maturity, and it’s easy to see why she feels that way.
The Panthers return four seniors and three juniors from last year’s team, including Marialle Boles inside and Natali Muniz and Emily Vinson on the wings.
McEnturff will count on that experience as the Lady Panthers try and make a playoff push in their new Class 2A home.
SEASON OPENER: 5 p.m. Tuesday, vs. Tyler Lee
FRANKSTON MAIDENS (23-10)
Don’t expect the Frankston girls’ basketball team to look much like the district title-winning team from a year ago, because it won’t.
Frankston graduated seven players from last year’s team, including all five starters, and FHS coach Christi Coker will be starting over with this year’s squad.
But, that’s not to say that the Maidens don’t have players. Mallory Winkler is a senior guard who averaged more than seven points per game a year ago, while Chasity Cooper averaged seven points and almost eight rebounds in her sophomore campaign.
The Maidens should also be boosted by the return of Amanda Allen, a senior post who missed all of last season with an injury.
SEASON OPENER: 5 p.m. Nov. 13, at Grapeland
After making the playoffs and advancing to the area round in coach Tommy Cross’ first season at Cayuga, the Ladycats will look for even more success in 2012-2013.
They have the talent to do so, led by returners like Madison Spears, Kylee Cross and Molly Griffey, all of whom played significant roles in last year’s success.
Griffey, along with Shawnta Knox and Danielle Anderson, may be a bit late to the basketball party, as they try and lead Cayuga back to the state volleyball tournament.
Cayuga also gets a boost in the form of move-in Madyson Gunnels, who Dogwood Circle fans will remember as a star for Slocum in 2010-2011 as a freshman.
SEASON OPENER: 5 p.m. Nov. 20 at Overton
GRAPELAND SANDIETTES (N/A)
It’s hard to say how the Grapeland basketball team will look in 2012-2013, because first-year coach Michael Manning isn’t sure yet.
With the Sandiettes playing volleyball up until Thursday, Manning hadn’t had a chance to see his full team yet, and said he wasn’t content to go off of last year’s roster.
SEASON OPENER: 5 p.m. Nov. 13 vs. Frankston
SLOCUM LADY MUSTANGS (N/A)
Each year under coach Don Layton, the Slocum Lady Mustangs have gone a little farther in the playoffs than the year before.
In his first season, 2010-2011, the Lady Mustangs were regional quarterfinalists. Last year, Slocum made its first regional tournament in more than five years, falling to eventual state finalist Martin’s Mill.
This season, Layton and the Lady Mustangs have the pieces in place to again make a run, led by standout guards Brice Sizemore and Valarie Larkin.
Larkin was the Dogwood Circle Offensive Player of the Year last year, after averaging 18 points per game, while Sizemore — who Layton calls a coach on the floor — averaged almost eight assists.
Slocum will have to contend with the loss of Cristina Wickersham down low, but should have the young talent to fill the hole.
SEASON OPENER: Tuesday vs. Zavalla (per Maxpreps.com)
NECHES LADY TIGERS (34-5)
For the past four years, the Neches girls’ basketball team has always been one of the last two teams playing in its respective classification.
But, earning that distinction once again in 2012-2013 has been made difficult on numerous fronts.
The first is the graduation of seniors Roddricka Patton, Kristen Green, Raven McFarland, Cheyenne Haskins and Lyric Duncan, a group that provided a large chunk of both offense and defense for Neches in the past.
The second is a move up from Class 1A, Division II to Division I, into the same region as powers like Martin’s Mill and Martinsville.
But, led by lone senior Kiandra Taylor (10 ppg, 7 spg, 4 rpg), NHS coach Andy Snider said the team still hopes to contend for a title.
While Taylor offers the only real experience in the backcourt, Neches does have front-court depth in the return of Kamry Kinder and Kelsee Wade. The Lady Tigers also have experience winning games.
SEASON OPENER: 5 p.m. Tuesday vs. Palestine
Editor’s Note: Requests for information from Elkhart were unreturned at press time
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com