Returning four starters and more than 48 points per game off a team that led the 4A/3A District 1 girls standings with a 14-4 record has many believing Gravette will be a team to beat again this season.
However, Lady Lions coach Will Pittman said his team will have a much different look without the inside presence of 6-foot forward Stephanie Pinter.
3A/4A Girls High 5
Christyn Williams^Central Arkansas Christian^5-11^Sr.
No. 1 college prospect in the nation by ESPN led the 4A in scoring (26 points), rebounds (8.8), steals (2.5) and blocks (1.8) per game last season.
Averaged 18.8 points and 10.7 points per game for a team that finished 30-6 a year ago.
Lia Enos^Shiloh Christian^5-10^Jr.
Led the Lady Saints by averaging an area-best 19 points to go along with 9.3 rebounds per game.
Averaged 17 points, 8 rebounds per game. Scored 20 or more points in 18 games to help Lady Pirates reach state semifinals.
All-stater led Lady Lions with 10.9 points, 3.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds with 80 steals.
"We've got a lot back, but the one we lost we'll miss a lot," Pittman said. "We'll be a completely different team. We have four starters back, but that's not set in stone. We have seven to eight players who could start on any given night."
Three players return from last season's team who averaged double digits in scoring in seniors Tori Foster and Kyrstin Branscum and sophomore Cally Kildow. Foster averaged 11 points, 2.9 steals and 2.4 assists per game to power Gravette's up-tempo attack.
"Tori Foster will be the trigger on offense," Pittman said. "But we will probably have a different leading scorer a lot of nights because of the way we like to play."
Kildow, an Arkansas Razorbacks softball pledge, led the team with 11.8 points per game. A sharpshooter from beyond the arc, Pittman said Kildow has worked hard to improve her overall game and can score in a variety of ways. Branscum, who averaged 10.5 points and 4 rebounds per game, is a three-year starter who has grown to 5-11.
Sophomore Gabby Gregory will contribute as will Jessica Bookout, Bernice Garcia and Teagan Dixon, who combined for more than 15 points per game a year ago. Dixon was the leading scorer in a first-round regional tourney loss against eventual state runnerup Pottsville and was a catalyst of the team's full-court press that forced 15.2 turnovers per game. Dixon led the way with a team-best 93 assists and 114 deflections.
"She is a very important player for because of her motor and she has greatly improved her offense," Pittman said. "We're going to have to play fairly fast because we're not very big and we have to force the pace a little bit and score in different ways, although I believe our shooting will be better."
Berryville doesn't play in the 4A/3A District 1 but will be the team Gravette and others will have to deal with in the postseason. The Lady Bobcats won the 4A-1 Conference tournament and lost to Pottsville in the state semifinals. They return 6-1 junior post player Hannah Morrell and strong guard play behind Aspen and Baylea Smith.
Huntsville, another 4A-1 Conference member that plays in the 4A/3A District 2 during the regular season, is always strong under legendary coach Charles Berry. The Lady Eagles lost leading scorer Delanie Tipton (12.8 points per game) but guards Maci Campbell and Makayla Watkins will pick up the slack after averaging more than 20 points combined last season.
Prairie Grove is another to keep an eye on with juniors Emily Grant, Larisha Crawford and Lexie Madewell as well as seniors Madi Vinson, Audrey Doering and Sarah James Stone. The Lady Tigers also will feature 5-9 freshman power forward Jasmine Wynos and 5-5 sophomore guard Aaniya Gibbs, a move-in from Muskogee, Okla.
"We had to play a lot of sophomores last year, so maturity level wise, that will help us," said Prairie Grove coach Kevin Proud. "None of us are 6-footers, but we do have a lot more size this year. It'll just be a matter of gelling and then hopefully that experience will transition into more wins for us.
"The big question for us is if we can have consistent scoring because last year we would have to hold teams to around 30 points to have a chance to win."
Shiloh Christian is led by one of the most talented players in the league in Lia Enos. Coach JD Dudley has moved up several freshmen‚ like 6-2 post Anna McCredy, to the varsity squad, which should allow Enos to play more along the perimeter. Pea Ridge is young, but could be a team to watch by season's end. Gentry also will be strong with seniors Hannah Boss and Chastery Fuamatu back.
"Each team in our conference has real good players," Froud said. "Berryville, be far and away, is the best team and for the rest of us, it's just going to be a battle every night to do what we have to do to get a win."
As far 3A teams from the 3A/4A District 1, Greenland should be strong behind the play of senior guard Haylea Pickett and junior combo guard/forward Fiona Wilson, who was named the All-NWADG Newcomer of the Year after last season.
Sports on 11/05/2017
Print Headline: 3A/4A Girls Preview Gravette looks to improve behind solid returners