PARK HILLS – An unexpected late-season spark resulted in a Region 16 title and highlighted a 16-16 performance last year for the Mineral Area women’s basketball team.
The Lady Cardinals lost Honorable Mention all-American guard Hayley Winter – who moved on to Division I Siena – along with several other role players, but will still return three sophomores for the upcoming season.
Head coach Gary Koch is concerned about the lost leadership and production of Winter, but looks to reload around a surplus of incoming talent. There are 10 new faces on the team – nine freshmen and one sophomore.
“I like them a lot. They are a really good, refreshing bunch of girls,” Koch said. “Having 10 new players will always take some time to get them to blend all together. As far as wins and losses, I hope to take it by successes and continually get better.”
There are three local freshmen from MAAA high schools, all of whom have previously played together at the club level.
Madison Reynolds enjoyed a record-setting tenure at Ste. Genevieve with 1,641 points, 425 assists and 328 steals.
Forward Holly Forbes graduated as the all-time scoring leader at North County with 1,756 varsity points, and Briar Johnson easily surpassed the 1,000-point mark as a standout at Arcadia Valley.
Koch has also been impressed with the energy of newcomer Tyeshia Mitchell from Sikeston.
"She is an incredibly talented and powerful young lady, and she has natural skill," he said.
Also joining the program are Evi Papadopoulou from Greece, Haley Beale from Doniphan, Mo., sophomore Ella Gobald from Australia, Mary Katherine Tucker of Martin, Tenn., Lainey Bell from Hohenwald Tenn., and Madison Cook from Dayton, Ohio.
Koch spoke highly of his returning players and is depending on them to aid in a successful season.
“Once we get this group going, I think that we can really put some things together. But the three returners need to play their roles in order for that to happen.” Koch said, “It is almost like riding a bike. You just need to find your balance and then you can really get going. We just haven’t got our balance yet.”
Potosi graduate Allie Golden provided 5.7 points and 4.6 rebounds on 21 minutes per game last year at forward, and factored heavily in the Lady Cardinals' postseason run.
Olivia White, a 6-foot-4 center, averaged 9.8 points plus 5.8 rebounds, and converted better than half of her shot attempts last year. Fellow sophomore Makenzy Smith paced Mineral Area with an 81.7 free throw percentage.
The Lady Cardinals open the season Wednesday at home against SE Illinois, and hosts Three Rivers on Jan. 6 to start the Region 16 schedule. Koch is eager to begin competition, but hopes that the team will approach the challenge one game at a time.
“All games, not just the region matchups are key for progress,” Koch said. “We want them to compete full out every night. That is just the way we do it. We are just going to try to play basketball the way we think it should be played.”