The core of the success over four years is gone – Alexus Wilson at Oral Roberts, 2012-13 MVP Kelsey McClure at Central Arkansas — but it doesn’t mean there’s not attention focused on high-caliber talent.
All of it for now is centered on 5-foot-9 sophomore Aaliyah Wilson, the younger sister of Alexus and a sophomore this season.
“The only Big 12 team we haven’t heard from is Texas,” MHS coach Doyle Rowland said.
The younger Wilson not only will step into her sister’s shoes but also have to make up for the empty shoes of McClure. It all depends on how quickly a young cast comes together that follows a starting five that narrowly missed the Lady Roughers’ second consecutive 6A state tournament.
“A lot of interchangeable parts,” Rowland said. “We’ve just got to figure out how they’ll fit together.”
Jada Ford, a 5-8 sophomore guard who came in off the bench last year, has shown some offensive potential. Lanice Rozell, a a 5-9 junior forward, also was a spark off the bench and “likes to play defense,” said Rowland. Danazia Brown, a 5-10 junior forward, could also factor in quickly on both ends of the court.
But with Wilson being the only player with significant starting experience, the road will be challenging – yet not impossible.
“We’ve had 10 girls over the last two years who are playing college basketball somewhere,” Rowland said. “There’s a lot of holes to fill but a lot of potential to fill them with.”
Scott Hensley directed the Lady Hornets to their best season since 1997 at 17-9 and that core returns, starting with 5-foot-8 All-Phoenix Newcomer of the Year Katie Kirkhart (13 points, 2 steals, 3 assists and 2 rebounds per game) as the point guard.
Juniors Hillary Calvert (9 points, 4 rebounds), Casady Mills (7 points, 4 rebounds) and Julie Plunkett (3 points) are back as guards and Nicole Wright (4 points, 4 rebounds) and Destiny Riddle (5 points) returns as forwards. Mackensie Plant’s rebounding improvement over the offseason will also help inside.
But more than anything, it’s maturity that should get Hilldale up a level, with the goal of going beyond regionals. Hilldale was 1-2 in the postseason after getting upset by Inola in districts.
“Last year we were playing with freshmen and sophomores who had never had these kind of expectations and I think even with our success in the regular season, that hurt us in the playoffs,” Hensley said.
“This year’s different. And with a lot of these girls winning state in fastpitch, their mindset is they’re driven to excel here.”
Jordan Garner moves from Eufaula, where he took the Lady Ironheads to a game away from a state tournament berth last year. His system will utilize personnel heavy on athleticism.
Jennifer Hunter averaged 8 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals a year ago as a 5-7 freshman point guard. A year later, Garner is moving her to a two-guard to take more advantage of her offense and let sophomore Desiree Moon take over at point. Nese Walters gives the Lady Wolverines an inside presence as a 6-0 junior forward who averaged 9.2 points a year ago and Erica Casey, a senior guard, averaged 9.6 points.
“Our pressure defense will hopefully allow us to play fast and we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores that will be counted on to contribute in big ways,” Garner said.