Coming off two successful seasons at the Class 3A level after years as a power in Class 2A, the Lovell Lady Bulldogs will look to be a force once again as they return to 2A for the 2016-17 season, even though they graduated five seniors, all of them starters.
Coach Chris Edwards’ team went 38-14 during two years in 3A, bringing home second-place and consolation title trophies. Gone are graduating seniors Madison Harper, Mykelle Nichols, Savanna Savage, Charri McArthur and Sara Clark. Nichols and McArthur were all-state selections, Savage all-conference and Harper honorable mention all-conference.
But the cupboard isn’t bare. Eight players return with varsity experience: seniors Shelby Wardell, Trysa Flood, Emily Snell and Kaitlyn Mickelson and juniors Mikkel McIntosh, Mandi Jo Baxendale and Madison Bryson.
“All of them got some good experience last year in 3A,” Edwards said. “Shelby and Emily both got quality minutes last year as the season progressed. Trysa and Mikkel were able to step in and contribute when called upon.
“I felt we represented well while we were in the 3A classification. It taught our kids how to compete at a physical level of play game in, game out.”
The Lady Bulldogs have graduated two strong centers over the last two years in Emilee Reasch and Savage, and there’s no true post returning this year, but plenty of athletic ability.
“Our lack of size this year is going to change us into more of an up-and-down team with the hopes of wearing opposing centers out,” Edwards said. “Both Kaitlyn and Mandi Jo have the athletic ability (as posts) to race up and down the floor.”
Mickelson tore her ACL in early January at the Big Horn Basin Classic in Cowley and was lost for the season, but she is fully recovered now, Edwards said, after a hard summer of rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Edwards said the Lady Bulldogs will again employ a “four out, one in” offense with junior Mikkel McIntosh directing the team as the point guard and senior Shelby Wardell sliding over to “the one” position when needed.
“Mikkel is quick and savvy with the ball,” Edwards said. “She uses a change-of-pace dribble effectively. She has worked hard on her perimeter shot and is making it more consistently. She has the capability of being a solid three-point shooter, but she’s at her best when she’s penetrating and getting to the rim.”
Wardell came on late last year as a scoring threat off the bench, Edwards noted, and will likely start at the “two” or shooting guard spot this season.
“In the second half of the season Shelby gained a lot of confidence and knocked down some consistent threes for us in a lot of contests,” the coach said. “She hit some timely shots that brought us back in games or maintained leads for us. She has a consistent, quick release and has the ability to stretch defenses with the perimeter shot.
“I’m hoping this year she has the mindset to attack the basket more and get to the free-throw line.”
Edwards said sophomores Karlee Burton and Paige Bischoff will back up at the one and two positions.
Seniors Trysa Flood and Emily Snell and junior Madison Bryson are working on the wing, Edwards said.
“Trysa is a consistent mid-range shooter who is athletic and long for a wing player,” he said. “She can use those attributes to her strengths. I hope she turns into a consistent defender who can put pressure on opposing guards.
“Emily is a physical player who has the mindset to outwork people. She doesn’t allow her lack of height to restrict her from getting to the backboard and putting opposing players in foul trouble. This year Emily will be more of a face-up player who can blow by players. She’s quick and she’s strong.”
Bryson will step into a greater role as a junior, Edwards said.
“Madison provides a long, athletic style of play at the small forward position but is also able to play with her back to the basket,” he noted. “She plays with a lot of hustle and energy.”
Working at the post will be senior Kaitlyn Mickelson and junior Mandi Jo Baxendale.
“Kaitlyn spent a lot of time during the offseason trying to develop her footwork for post moves,” Edwards said. “She is highly effective with her 10- to 12-foot jump shots and can pull opposing centers away from the basket.
“Mandi Jo is making the transition from a wing position to a post player. Her height and wingspan are attributes she’ll utilize this year. She’s fairly quick and can use that to maneuver around bigger post players.”
Edwards said there are other spots available for the rest of the juniors, plus sophomores, to earn. The roster is composed of four seniors, five juniors, 12 sophomores and five freshmen for a total of 26. Since there are so few freshmen, most of the freshman contests have been cancelled this season, though Edwards said the frosh will compete in Lovell’s own freshman tournament this weekend.
Assistant coaches will once again be Dave Scheffler and Stormy Jameson.
The Lady Bulldogs will open the season with just one opponent this weekend, meeting the Tongue River Lady Eagles in Dayton on Saturday. Tip-off times are 1 (JV) and 2:30 p.m.
Edwards said TR has a strong post player in Kylee Knobloch and also a new coach.
“It will be interesting to see with a new coach what kind of style they’ll have,” he said.
As for the rest of the state, Edwards said defending state champion Pine Bluffs will be strong again, but the top seed out of the west a year ago, Lyman, has moved up to 3A. Wyoming Indian, Kemmerer and Greybull were the other teams from the west to advance to State.
Former 3A West Conference foe Powell will come to Winterholler Gym for games next Tuesday, Dec. 13, at 4 (JV) and 5:30 p.m.
“Powell is solid year in, year out,” Edwards said. “ They have the
two Bonander sisters (Jennifer and Rachel) who will create matchup problems for us, and they have a good set of returning guards to complement their post players.”
By David Peck