The “1” on the his team’s record from last year probably gnaws on the mind of Truman girls basketball coach Steve Cassity at least as much as the 25 wins soothes it.
With three college-bound senior starters back, another senior taking over for the graduated point guard and an influx of young talent on the varsity roster, Cassity knows the Patriots are primed for the possibility of another monster season – and hopefully a postseason that lasts longer than last year’s upset loss to Kearney in the district finals.
“We finally have matured into a veteran team, but some young players must contribute if we are to win our conference and move beyond district play,” Cassity said. “No excuses. It is time to win and win big.
“We have invested a lot of time in the weight room and on the court, and we hope to see the added strength reflected in our rebounding numbers.”
Drake-bound center Becca Jonas is a four-year starter who entered this season with 801 career points and 503 rebounds. Abby Hix, who has signed with Georgia Southern, has made 128 career 3-pointers at a 43 percent clip. Versatile forward Kayla Harrell (Southwest Baptist) has 501 career points.
They are joined in the starting five by Ashley McKinney, who spent 1 1/2 seasons recovering a freshman year injury and replaces Brooke Parton at point guard. Cassity lauded her passing ability.
“Her skill set is impressive,” he said. “We look for her to have a break-out season.”
Sophomore Bri Savidge has completed the starting five. She and classmate and fellow volleyball star Lexi Hart bring a great deal of athleticism to the table for rebounding and defense, Cassity said. Another sophomore, Sydney Paialii, provides a long-range shooting hand off the bench.
Those players were part of last season’s junior varsity squad that Cassity believes could makes this season’s varsity squad as good as ever.
“These players all scrimmaged against a 25-1 varsity team last year,” he said. “They are athletic, tough, competitive and ready for varsity competition. All of these players bring a level of speed to the floor that Truman has not seen.
“We have to improve our rebounding, guard play, on ball defense, and transition defense if we want to make a run at a conference titles, district titles and beyond. Some new faces in the post will have to perform well.”
Though Truman coach Billy Guinnee had just four letter winners back to begin this season, he isn’t worried about a lack of experience translating to a rudderless group of players.
“Our returning letter winners are great leaders and have set the tone since the offseason began last spring,” said Guinnee, whose team went 14-11 last season dropped Tuesday’s opener against Blue Springs South. “DeWayne Thornton, Michael Hernandez, DeAndre Young, Reid Titus, Jake Ritchell and the rest of the (team) have high expectations and no intention of failing.”
Guinnee listed returnees Thornton, Titus and Hernandez, along with Young, Keith Fletcher and Johntre’ Warren, as candidates to start, but there’s “probably still a lot up in the air.”
“DeWayne Thornton has been a pretty steady leader, and Rashaad Cole, he’s been a nice surprise,” Guinnee said speaking of the senior who transferred from Chrisman and didn’t play last season. “He’s trying to shake off the rust of not playing for a couple years.
With players such as Ritchell at 6-foot-4, Fletcher at 6-5 and Dominikk Jones at 6-7, the Patriots aren’t hurting for height, and Guinnee thinks the Patriots can be fast enough to win games through that route.
“I think if we use it the right way, our speed and quickness can be a strength if we channel it the right way,” he said. “Right now, I think we try to go too fast sometimes. If we use those strengths the right way, I think we can have success.”
Girls swimming & diving
Coach Trevor Tomney is hoping the younger swimmers who have come up through the middle school program can complement a large number of returning girls.
“We have a very strong senior and junior class,” he said. “We have good numbers and quite a bit of talent. We expect to see a lot from them. Overall we have a very positive outlook for the team.
“It was good to seem them back, fresh for the season and ready to work.”
Kara Atkinson, Sara Mancini and Audrey Powell are returning divers for the Patriots. Tomney noted Allison Timko in the 500-yard freestyle as candidate to reach a state qualifying time and said freshman Chloe Miller should make immediate contributions.
“She jumped right in with the varsity swimmers,” he said.
Just four letter winners win returned to the Truman mats this winter for first-year coach Levi Goes, but two of them fashioned winning campaigns last season.
Kurt Kaiser notched a 27-14 record last season, while Jonathan Gosserand managed a 28-15 mark. Amos Meek checked in at 16-27 and Kane Kaiser at 13-17. After that, it’s a green bunch of Patriots featuring 14 freshmen.
“We have a young team with a lot of talent,” Goes said. “We have a core group that we can build on from last year.
“Practice-wise, they’re a really committed group. Being as young as they are, they’re working hard and picking things up quickly. For a lot of kids that it’s their first or second year wrestling, there’s a lot to go over, especially competing in this area where there’s a lot of kids who’ve wrestled since they were little.”