TEAMS TO WATCH
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Despite compiling one of the most impressive four-year runs in school history, Blue Springs has settled for Class 5 runners-up four straight seasons. The bad news is their most reliable scorer, Tyonna Snow, has graduated. The good news is the cupboard is far from bare. Point guard Karyla Middlebrook has already signed on to play at Texas Tech next year, and sharp-shooting guard Lizzy Wendell is headed to Drake.
The Patriots return the top eight players from a team that lost only five games a year ago. Junior post player Becca Jonas is making a round of visits to Division I schools and already has received an offer from Drake. Shooting guard Abby Hix, who scored 24 points in a win against Staley on Wednesday, and senior forward Ashley Guenther, who has signed with Northwest Missouri State, round out the Patriots’ trio of scoring options.
After advancing to sectionals last season, where it lost to Blue Springs, Kearney has plenty of experience returning for another chance at a postseason run. Senior Mackenzie Cook, junior Meagan Paul and sophomore Taylor Doan — all three of whom were all-conference selections a year ago — lead an athletic, deep squad that also returns starting guard Cassidy Lee. The Bulldogs plan to play an up-tempo style under first-year coach Troy Resler, who replaces retired Herb Webster, who had the most wins for a high school girls coach in Missouri history.
It’s been a long wait for the 2012-13 season for Smithville, which lost a heartbreaker to Republic in the Class 4 state championship game a year ago. The Warriors lost one starter (Kristen Stewart) from last season’s team, which won 26 games, but a pair of all-state players offer reason to believe they can match that number, if not surpass it. Paige Imhoff is a versatile forward who can play the perimeter or in the post, and senior Maddie Nelson serves as the floor general at point guard.
Lee’s Summit North
Despite a young roster, this may be the year the Broncos are able to dethrone Blue Springs as Kansas City’s representative in the Class 5 championship game. Lee’s Summit North tied the Wildcats for the conference crown last season. Junior post player Imani Johnson is a double-double machine. She was selected to the all-state team after averaging 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds last season. Longtime coach Tricia Lillygren said she expects defense to again be the strength of this year’s squad.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kelsey Barrett, Raytown, senior
One of the area’s most underrated players, Barrett leads a Raytown squad that expects to compete for a conference title. She has signed to play for Eastern Illinois next fall and will be the focal point of Raytown’s offense after averaging 15 points and six rebounds per game as a junior.
Imani Johnson, Lee’s Summit North, junior
As a junior, Johnson is already being heavily recruited by Division I schools. She nearly averaged a double-double as a sophomore, posting 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Johnson is particularly effective in her scoring opportunities, shooting 52 percent from the field and 76 percent from the line last year.
Marissa Preston, Staley, senior
A 5-foot-8 guard, Preston is a scoring threat from anywhere on the floor. She shoots it well from the perimeter and takes the ball to the basket with authority. After averaging 16 points per game last season, Preston, who will attend Wichita Statenext year, is back looking to lead the Falcons to another appearance in the sectional round.
Lizzy Wendell, Blue Springs, senior
As a sophomore, Wendell broke the school record by connecting on 45 percent of her three-point attempts. Two years later, she and Karyla Middlebrook make up one of the state’s most talented backcourts. Now an all-around scoring threat, Wendell is headed to play basketball at Drake following her high school career.
Kindred Wesemann, Pleasant Hill, senior
A two-time all-state selection, Wesemann looks to make her case as Kansas City’s best all-around player. Noted for her court vision, Wesemann will handle the point guard duties for a team that expects to make a postseason run come February. She has already signed on to play at Kansas State in the fall.
Raytown at North Kansas City, Dec. 10
In a wide open Suburban White Conference, Raytown and North Kansas City both expect to compete for the top spot. Raytown is led by senior forward Kelsey Barrett. North Kansas City returns four starters from a team that won 19 games, headlined by senior Lexus Bradley.
William Chrisman at Staley, Jan. 7
With senior forward Nieka Wheeler leading the way, William Chrisman is looking to improve on last year’s result, which saw the Bears lose to Kearney in a district title game. Staley has an impressive backcourt that includes senior Marissa Preston and junior Monique Townson.
Lee’s Summit West at Lee’s Summit, Jan. 31
Two teams that played for a district title last February clash in their only regular-season meeting to close out the January calendar. LS West returns four starters under first-year coach Kristy Guffey, while Eriyonna Irvin is the lone returning starter for first-year coach Jessica Crawford at Lee’s Summit.
Blue Springs at Lee’s Summit North, Feb. 14
Eleven days before the start of district play, the two top contenders in Suburban Gold Conference will meet with possibly a league championship on the line. It’s a matchup of conflicting styles — Blue Springs has a talented backcourt, while Lee’s Summit North prides itself on defense and low-post play.
Truman at Park Hill South, Feb. 21
A year after finishing 10-0 in conference play, Truman may see its top competition for the Suburban Red Conference crown from newcomer Park Hill South, winners of 16 games in 2011-12. This date in February marks the end of conference play for both teams.