Liberty County High School girls’ basketball coach Carolyn Kelly said she has an unusual predicament this season.
“I don’t have any returning seniors,” she said. “We graduated all our senior class, and actually I don’t have any seniors at all.”
Kelly said it is the first time she doesn’t have any senior players representing the squad, and while it has some disadvantages, it also provides for a unique opportunity.
“On the negative (side), you don’t have the senior leadership. But we are fortunate to have juniors returning from last year that played a lot of minutes, and we think they will be able to come in and step up and play that senior role,” she said. “On the good side, having no seniors … we don’t have to focus on trying to get a player recruited to a college just yet. We have a year and time to develop the players.”
Returning junior starters Brianna Reece and Bryonna Graham were part of the starting five that led the Lady Panthers to a 15-9 overall record last season and a 7-3 mark in Region 2A-AAAA. Sophomores Emone Fisher, Jaelynn James and Jakaria Fleming are slated to start this season after playing valuable minutes off the bench last season. The program also has 14 freshmen gearing up for the season.
“But I think, as the year goes on, I think a lot of these freshmen getting (junior-varsity) experience might be able to come up because they have the athletic abilities, they just don’t have the experience,” Kelly said. “They will be able to come up and help us out some.”
The Lady Panthers will tip off the season Nov. 27 at Richmond Hill. Their home opener is 7 p.m. Nov. 30 against Bradwell. Kelly said this year’s schedule is reminiscent of the one the Panthers had four years ago, when every game was against a tough opponent. She added that being in Region 3A-AAAA did have a slight advantage in the long run.
“This region is going to be tougher than the one we previously had, but in the long run I think it’s going to be better for us because we are sub-divided out, so we might not have to see some of those tough teams until we cross over,” Kelly sad. “South Effingham is going to be a tough team to beat because (coach Stacey Womack) has a lot of experience over there.”
The Lady Panthers have done well against the Mustangs in the past, and last year beat the Lady Mustangs, 73-62, in the region tournament to send the Lady Panthers to the state playoffs.
One of Liberty’s crossover games is against Burke County, against whom the Lady Panthers hold a 5-3 series lead. The Lady Panthers have to contend with a Statesboro Blue Devils squad that finished 27-2 overall and was undefeated in Region 2B-AAAA last year.
Wayne County is new to the region, but the Liberty girls are undefeated against the Yellow Jackets.