By Jason Wesseldyk
That’s what third-year Allegan coach Sharron Thompson is hoping—and expecting—to see from his team this season.
“I expect us to have a really good season,” he said. “This is a good group of hardworking girls ready to compete. Last year our record was 7-14 after going 3-17 my first year, and we’re looking to continue to improve this season.”
The team’s five returning players—three of whom are seniors—will lead the charge for the Tigers.
Senior guard Carlee Rynearson and senior forward Katelyn VanAtter return as the team’s top scorers from last season. Classmate Yvette Hernandez, a forward, also returns.
The junior duo of guard Ireland Ashley and forward Shyonna Thompson are also back after playing at the varsity level as sophomores.
Top newcomers include junior center Maddie Antkoviak and senior guard Natalie Prentice.
All in all, it’s a roster that Sharron Thompson likes quite a bit.
“We are faster and more athletic than before, enabling us to play faster,” he said. “Our shooting will likely be improved due to a few girls putting in off-season work and adding a few pieces with the returning shooters we already have.
“My main concern for the season would be our size. We are a little more guard heavy than we have been since I have been varsity coach here, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.”
And if all goes according to plan, the Tigers could be in contention for top honors in their division.
“I anticipate us right near the top of the conference this year,” Coach Thompson said. “The energy of this group is different and they are ready to compete.
“We’re looking to make some noise this year and we’re hoping to see the community come out and support Allegan basketball.”
Cory Howard is on the move in Fennville.
After serving as head coach for the boys varsity team last season, Howard is taking over as head coach of the Fennville girls squad this year.
Howard, who has been an assistant coach for the girls team in the past, is focusing on the fundamentals of the game with his players.
“We’re looking to go out and compete for four quarters every game and to continue to improve each day in practice,” he said.
Howard will rely on his four returning seniors to set the tone for the team and serve as an example to the younger players.
“One of primary areas of strength is our senior leadership,” he said. “All of our seniors have been on varsity for four years, so they know what it takes to compete at this level.”
Those four seniors are guards Kylie Bushee, Madisynn Jefferson, Nat Wyman and Kallie Wyman.
Junior guard Lila Rosema also returns after putting together a solid sophomore campaign a year ago.
Newcomers to the team include the junior trio of forward Cailey Mokma, guard Ariel Latchaw and center Addison Brown along with freshman guard Ceeley Howard.
It’s a group that Cory Howard believes can improve upon last season’s 4-18 record.
“We’re a little lacking when it comes to size, but these girls work hard,” Howard said. “Coming from the boys program last season, I’m not really sure who the top teams in our division will be, but we’re going to go out each night and compete to the best of our ability.”
As he enters his fourth season as head coach in Hopkins, David Flowers’ expectation for his team remains the same as it’s been the past three years.
“As cliche as it sounds, our goal is—and always will be—to compete as hard as we can, for as long as we can,” he said.
That philosophy served the Vikings well last season, as they finished at 15-7 overall and claimed the OK Silver championship with an 11-2 mark.
Flowers believes defense will once again be the primary calling card of his team.
“While we lost around 50 percent of our scoring to graduation, we bring back a good core of players that either started or played significant minutes on a team that only gave up 39 points per game,” he said. “So, we expect to be pretty good defensively right from the beginning.
“The challenge for us will be to find a group of players to fill in for what was lost offensively with Mady Weber and Nevaeh Helderop. Once we do that, I think we are going to be a really tough out for anyone.”
That core of returning players mentioned by Flowers includes five seniors: guards Ellie Sebright, Kate Cleypool and Abby Zalis along with forwards Kate Cleypool and Flannery Johnson.
The junior trio of guard Ava VanderVeen, guard Alyssa Bracelin and forward Izzy Laskowski also return, as does sophomore guard Reegan Helderop.
Junior guards Rianna Hugmeyer and Myah Duimstra join sophomore forward Cora Hall as newcomers to the team.
“We really loaded up our non-conference schedule this year with the hopes that it will help us compete for another conference championship,” Flowers said. “And hopefully it takes us to the next step in winning a district game for the first time in a while.”
At the same time, Flowers knows repeating as league champs won’t be easy.
“I expect our league to be really competitive again this year from top to bottom,” he said. “Northpointe Christian has one of the best players in all of West Michigan in Emma Bruwer, who is committed to Kentucky Wesleyan. They also have a really good post player in Hayleigh Amy, as well as a solid freshmen class coming in.
“Calvin Christian will be a really talented team from top to bottom, led by one of the best 3-point shooters in the area in Karsen Balmer, and a really good sophomore post in Addy Rhoades.
“Belding has a really good returning core led by Alison Rockburn and Mylie Vandentorn, and Godwin Hieghts also returns some key pieces, led by Mikasia Witherspoon.”
Last season, Martin went 18-5 and won the SAC Central with a perfect 10-0 record in the division.
Clippers coach Ben Schipper sees no reason why the level of success can’t continue in the upcoming season.
“We believe we can be as successful—if not more so—than last year as long as we can stay healthy,” he said. “We look forward to significant growth from our girls who will have expanded roles this year as well as our newcomers.
“As always, our only goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season as we have our sights set on a deep tournament run.”
Senior point guard Makala Goddard, who received Honorable Mention All-State recognition last year, leads a group of six returning players.
Fellow seniors Elizabeth Reinke (guard/forward) and Hailey Snyder (guard) also return, as do junior forwards Avery Jager and Macy Thorne along with sophomore Marybeth Ritchie.
“We bring back a ton of experience from our great season last year,” Schipper said. “Our six returners bring 11 seasons of varsity experience with them. We’re very deep at wing and our team is quicker as a whole than we’ve been in years past.
“We have prided ourselves as being a program with grit that never quits, and this team certainly appears to have that mindset entering the season.”
Senior forward Lily Stocking is new to the roster, along with junior forward Mari Elkins and sophomore guards Torryn Harris and Alley Bacon.
“We don’t have a lot of size, so keeping our posts out of foul trouble and staying healthy specifically at that position will be key,” Schipper said. “Some of our wings will have to get comfortable being undersized on defense.”
Schipper views Saugatuck and Galesburg-Augusta as the top challengers in the SAC Central, although he knows his players will need to be ready to compete each time they step on the court.
“Each team in the Central plays hard every night,” he said. “There aren’t ever any easy games. Saugatuck and Galesburg gave us the toughest games last year and I know each of them bring back significant talent from last year.
“We plan to be competing for the championship again this year, hoping to go back-to-back and three of the past five years.”
If having an experienced roster translates into success on the court, then this should be quite the successful season for Otsego.
The Bulldogs return a total of nine players from a team that went 12-11 last season, including six seniors.
Two of those seniors—guards Aly Aldrich and Hannah Fitzpatrick—are entering their fourth season at the varsity level. Two others—forward Olivia Dennis and guard Maddie Elkins—are back for their third season on the varsity squad.
“Obviously experience has to be the top strength,” Otsego coach Tony Koshar said. “Aly and Hannah.
“Our depth should also be a strength, but could also present some concerns. This is probably the deepest team we have had from 1 to 13 on the roster, so players accepting their roles and playing for a common cause will be really important.”
Guard Malia Holmes and Addison Milheim round out the list of returning seniors. Junior forward Tessa Prough joins sophomore guards Audrey Lingbeek and Allie Proctor as the other returning players.
Newcomers include senior guard Kailyn Proctor, junior guard/forward Reagan Engbers, junior guard Lexi Gross and freshman guard/forward Brooke Smalldon.
“We are really excited for this season,” Koshar said. “Our expectations are to compete for the conference title and make a run in the tournament at the end of the year.
“As always, we have a really tough non-conference schedule, which we hope will prepare us for big conference games and the tournament.”
When it comes to the Wolverine Conference, defending league champ Vicksburg appears to be the team to beat.
“It’s a pretty loaded conference this year,” Koshar said. “Vicksburg, which went undefeated in the regular season last year, has basically everyone back. Paw Paw also has an experienced team with almost everyone back. Edwardsburg is always tough and even though Plainwell lost quite a few seniors, they will still be solid.”
Plainwell will be young this season.
Just how young, you ask?
Well, the roster consists of just two seniors along with five sophomores and four freshmen.
“We are a very young team,” third-year coach Mark Stephenson said. “We will be relying on the experience of our three returning players from last year to help prepare our sophomores and freshman for the grind of a varsity basketball season.”
That trio of returning players includes senior point guard Brooklyn Timpe, senior forward Mackenzie Topp and sophomore guard Alyssa Weldon.
“We see the energy that our girls play with and how hard they compete daily and that is where we believe our strength is,” Stephenson said. “We also have two really good guards in Brooklyn and Alyssa who have a lot of experience in big games and high-pressure situations. They’ll be excellent court leaders for us.”
In the Wolverine Conference, Stephenson ranks defending champ Vicksburg as the favorite, followed closely by Paw Paw and Otsego.
“We’re excited about the team we have and believe we will see tremendous growth as the players learn to play together,” Stephenson said. “Our girls are very competitive and enjoy being challenged.
“We can just go out, play hard and have fun.”
It’s been said that it’s not how you start that’s important, but how well you finish.
Saugatuck was a perfect example of that last season.
After posting a 7-9 record through their first 16 games, the Trailblazers won eight of their last nine contests to finish at 15-10, winning a district title in the process.
And with several key contributors from that team back this season—not to mention some talented additions—Saugatuck coach Kevin Tringali hopes to carry that momentum into the new season.
Seniors Jenn Schock and Elsa Nor are back after playing big roles last season, as is junior Kennedy Gustafson along with sophomores Ada Roth and Penny Grob.
Senior guard Brook Simpson, meanwhile, transferred into the district from Belding, where she earned Division 2 All-State honors and received multiple NCAA Division 1 offers.
Simpson’s younger sister Mylah, a freshman, also joins the team. She’ll play point guard and wing.
“Our strength as a team is definitely our experience,” Tringali said. “Jenn, Elsa, Kennedy, Ada and Penny all played key roles in our district championship season. Then you add a high-level player with plenty of big game experience in Brook to the mix and you will always have a shot.
“Younger sister Mylah Simpson, although just a freshman, plays wise beyond her years and will not be afraid of big moments.”
Sophomore guard Avery Smith also joins the team and should see plenty of playing time.
“We feel confident we can compete with every team on our schedule,” Tringali said. “Our expectation is as always to compete for conference and district championships and beyond.”
Speaking of a conference championship, Tringali views defending SAC Central Division champion Martin as the Trailblazers’ primary competition.
“Martin has a really good thing going on right now,” he said. “They always play so fundamentally sound and are great on the defensive end. And you can never count out Gobles. They have been as consistent as anyone in West Michigan for many years.”
Culture and health will be the keys for Saugatuck.
“We need to continue to always put our culture first by being the best teammate you can be and playing for each other,” Tringali said. “And, of course, staying healthy is always important. It’s a long season and finding ways to avoid injuries and illness will always be a factor in what direction the season goes.”
Assuming the culture and health pieces fall into place, Tringali believes this should be fun season.
“We’re just really excited about the upcoming season,” he said. “I am very proud of where we are as a program. We have quite a few kids right now where basketball is their primary sport and have put the time in during the offseason.
“We as coaches are going to help do all we can to see if it can all come together.”
NOTE: No preview information was received from Hamilton or Wayland prior to the deadline.