Well, my favorite time of the year is here! It’s basketball season!
And the girls high school season has already begun for five teams in the Eastern Jackson County area while just Truman has played so far on the boys side.
Last season, we had three district champions in the area – the William Chrisman girls, the Grain Valley girls and the Blue Springs South boys. No one made the state final four, but I think there are a few teams that could make a run to state.
First I am going to start off by breaking down our local girls teams. There are four teams that I think have a legitimate shot at making a deep playoff run. Others have a fair shot at improving on last year’s record. And others are rebuilding. Without further adieu, here are my thoughts on our nine local girls teams (see Saturday’s edition for the boys preview):
WILLIAM CHRISMAN: Last season the Bears broke through and won a district title under head coach Scott Schaefer, who has led the team to a combined 44-10 record the past two seasons.
This year, I could see this team making the state quarterfinals and possibly the final four. It returns four out of five starters, including Adreon Bell, Bri Burns, Sarah Erickson and Mikahla Jaggers. This is not a team that has a ton of height, so it has to rely on its exceptional team speed.
Expect the Bears to utilize the full-court press a lot and try to push the ball in transition a lot. Bell has been someone who’s been a consistent scorer in recent years, Jaggers is tenacious on defense and can shoot the 3-ball and I think this is the year Burns will come into her own. The Stephen F. Austin commit dropped 18 points in a win over Park Hill South and it looks like she’s learning to create her own shots. If she can do that, this team will be dangerous come playoff time. But the Bears will need to cause a lot of turnovers to neutralize teams with size.
GRAIN VALLEY: The Eagles are very similar to Chrisman as their strength is team speed and weakness is rim protection and rebounding.
The team lost 6-foot center Paula Williams to graduation, so they will depend on a smaller center in Maddie Knust to control the boards. Kendra Sibert and Brittney McKay will provide some speed and athleticism in the starting five, and the Eagles return two stars in Kendyll Bailey and Claire Rose. Rose, a Rockhurst University signee who made the all-state team, has the ability to shoot from the perimeter and drive to the basketball and draw double teams and kick it out to open teammates. Bailey is a solid rebounder and interior scorer who can also step outside and hit a few 3-pointers. This team has the potential to make it to the state semifinals in Class 4. They will have to find a way to get past defending state champion St. Joseph Benton in the playoffs. If they are to do that, this would be the year.
LEE’S SUMMIT NORTH: The Broncos are the opposite of the two aforementioned teams. They have a pair of twin towers in sisters Aiyana and Aaliyah Johnson. Both are at 6-foot-2 and are excellent scorers in the paint and can rebound well. The team will go as far as those two will take them.
For the Broncos to have success, they will have to slow things down and operate in the half court. In last year’s district championship game, Chrisman exposed a weakness in the Broncos, causing many turnovers in a 34-31 Bears win.
Returning guards Anija Frazier and Alexis Griffin will need to figure out ways to break the press and reduce turnovers and get their two bigs heavily involved in the offense. If they can do that, a deep playoff run is not out of the question.
BLUE SPRINGS SOUTH: I view the Jaguars as sort of a darkhorse. It has been a while since they won a district championship, but this could be the year.
They return their talented guard-forward combo in Tiffany Davenport and Naia Tauai. Tauai is a solid interior scorer and the bulk of the rebounding duties will likely fall on her. Davenport is a bonafide scorer who can drive and she shoots the 3-ball really well.
Five others have returned, including sharpshooter Ashtyn Phillipsheck and a solid defender in Kaylee Connors. The Jags don’t have much height after Tauai but have a lot of capable shooters who can knock down shots from the outside. Don’t be surprised if this team hoists the district championship trophy in February.
BLUE SPRINGS: I will be honest. I don’t know much about this year’s team as I have not had the opportunity to make it down to their gym. They lost two Examiner All-Area players in Jasmine Tauai and a solid scorer in Mackenzie Sykes. Reggie Kanagawa, who committed to Brigham Young University in softball, at 6-foot-2, provides some size for rebounding and rim protection for the Wildcats. And Camryn Swanson will return, who is good at slashing to the basket and finding ways to penetrate.
I imagine this team will be young and inexperienced like last year’s squad, but don’t ever count out a team coached by Mark Spigarelli. He’s taken his teams to several final fours during his tenure, including five straight from 2009 to 2013. And while this team might be a ways away from being able to make it that far, the Wildcats could easily improve on last year’s 6-19 record.
FORT OSAGE: This team is young and has many new faces and only one player had significant varsity minutes, so this will be a rebuilding year for the Indians. But if anyone can turn around a program, it’s their new coach Lindsay Thompson, who helped turn around Chrisman’s program from 2007-2014.
It was apparent that Fort’s team was a work in progress at their jamboree last week as they were outscored by a combined 73-20 in three games with two eight-minute periods. It will be a tough road for this team to start the season, but look for it to get better as the season progresses.
VAN HORN: The Falcons will largely have the same team it had last year. The backcourt duo Karli Schnakenberg and Chase Siedlik will be back and will be a couple of deep threats to make the Falcons a viable offensive team. Siedlik had several double-digit scoring games last season and also has the ability to drive to the hoop.
Forwards Jasmine Williams and Jenny Leroy have some height and should be able to help control the boards. The Falcons have several winnable games on the schedule and should be able to improve from their 12-11 record a year ago.
TRUMAN: The Patriots have the best player in the area in Kierra Collier. There is a reason the all-everything guard will be playing for the University of Washington in 2017. Unfortunately for head coach Steve Cassity, Collier said she plans on moving to Seattle this winter and graduate early, so she won’t play the entire season.
That’s a huge blow for the Patriots to lose a three-time all-state player just a month and a half into the season. The senior can do it all, she can pass, shoot, drive, play good defense and create her own shot anywhere on the court. Collier averaged 22.1 points per game last season and the Patriots will have to find a way to make up for that.
Erin Davis could be a partial answer to that as the versatile guard is an excellent spot-up shooter and can drive to the bucket. Brodi Byrd is someone else who shoots the 3-ball well and forward Rosie Braley, at 6-foot-1, is a complete center who can shoot from outside, rebound and score in the interior when she’s on her game. It will take some time to adjust to life without Collier, so it will be interesting to see how the Pats handle it.
OAK GROVE: The Panthers return most of their team from last year, losing honorable mention All-Area player Easton Harmon. Sophie Heldenbrand is a very good forward who returns and gives the team a good presence in the paint. She can score down low, rebound well and block shots.
Emily Heldenbrand and Lilli Weir can provide some scoring, and Liz Heckman is an emerging threat on offense as she scored 10 points in a loss to Lafayette County Tuesday. Expect the Panthers to be a solid team that wins 16-19 games, but it will be tough for them to win a district title with two very good teams in Grain Valley and Odessa standing in their way.
Michael Smith is assistant sports editor for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6317.