With a roster that includes three returning starters, six seniors, a pair of 6-foot juniors and two players with starting experience, some might argue that the Greenwood girls basketball team is well-equipped to successfully defend its Class 4A sectional championship.
Although 10th-year coach Debbie Guckenberger is optimistic about the Woodmen’s chances, she cautions nothing is guaranteed.
“We only lost two seniors from last year, but they were very sharp players,” Guckenberger said. “Alexis (Swearingen) was our leading scorer, and Kailey (Evans) was our leading rebounder, so with them, we also lost a lot of ball handling and leadership.
“We had really good team chemistry last season, and I’m hoping we’ll have that again this year.
“But I also feel like it might take until mid-season for us all to get on the same page.”
Senior Kelsie Ratliff, a 5-foot-9 guard, returns for the Woodmen. She averaged 12 points and five rebounds per game during the team’s 20-3 run one year ago. She’ll be joined by fellow returning senior starters Deauna Evans and Chloe Orrvar.
The Woodmen will look to Evans and Orrvar to help fill the offensive void created by graduation.
“Deauna is that all-around player,” Guckenberger said. “She averaged eight points last season and is our leading returning rebounder (seven rebounds per game).”
Guckenberger expects Orrvar, who averaged eight points and four assists as a junior, to be the team’s starting point guard this season.
“Chloe is very unselfish, but we need her to be more selfish this year,” Guckenberger said. “In fact, we need Deauna and Chloe to both pick up their scoring.”
But with other returners capable of putting points on the board, Guckenberger isn’t overly concerned about Greenwood’s offense.
“We hope to push the ball a little in transition, and from a scoring standpoint I think we’ll be okay,” she said. “The defensive end will be our challenge.”
Senior Jordan Unversaw and junior Sarah McLeod, part-time starters from a year ago, also return to solidify the Woodmen lineup but, unfortunately, 6-foot guard/forward McLeod won’t be available until later this year. She tore an ACL during the summer, Guckenberger said, and isn’t expected back until December.
In the meantime, Greenwood is banking that newcomer Brittany Gray, a 6-foot junior, will help solidify the team’s inside game.
“Brittany is a Division I softball player, and I think she’s going to be a very solid basketball player, too,” Guckenberger said. “She’s very agile for her size, is a good rebounder and will give us a strong post presence to help fill that spot.”
Guckenberger also has high expectations for freshman Holly Hoopingarner, junior Sydney Hite and seniors Taylor Brooks and Sheridan Estell.
“Holly’s ball-handling abilities and athleticism will help a lot. She has great court awareness, is a good passer and is a good decision-maker,” Guckenberger said. “Sydney and Sheridan should get significant playing time, and Taylor will be a good role player for us.”
In addition, Guckenberger expects the experience of last regional push to pay dividend this year.
“We have a lot of senior experience, and now we have tournament experience, and these players know what our expectations are,” she said. “Winning last year’s sectional gives us confidence but the key for us will be finding leadership. I have always felt like this group of seniors is the most talented class we’ve seen around here in a while.
“Each team is a little different, and with this group we’re going to have to stay focused and play one game at a time.”