FIVE TEAMS TO WATCH
St. Thomas Aquinas
The Saints come into the season looking to defend their Kansas Class 5A state championship. It was the second title in the past three seasons for Rick Hetzel’s squad, which finished 24-1. The Saints return Kendra Weledji, Allie Dierks, Claire Ferguson and Rhyann Risher, who were all named to the All-Eastern Kansas Legaue teams last season. Weledji was named MVP of the EKL and first-team all-state.
The Huskies have a lot of unknowns coming into this season with new head coach Brian Bubalo, who was brought in to replace David Glenn. This season also marks the return of Lauren Mertz who has missed the last two seasons with ACL injuries after committing to Kansas State her freshman season.
Blue Valley North
The Mustangs finished third in the 6A state tournament last season and return Maria Klug, who was named first-team All-EKL. She also was awarded honorable-mention to the the all-state team. The Mustangs have some big shoes to fill after losing four seniors who made the All-EKL teams.
The Falcons went 10-1 in league play last season and won a sub-state title. They rolled into the 6A state tournament with a 20-1 record, but lost to Wichita Heights in the first round. They return standout sophomore Kylee Kopatich, who led the league in scoring and ranked among the leaders in steals and assists.
Shawnee Mission Northwest
The Cougars had five All-Sunflower League selections last season and return three of them. Senior McKayla Ross leads the group as the returning first-team pick and an honorable mention for all-state. Sophomore Brenni Rose has a lot of potential coming in after landing on the all-league second team last season. Junior Arielle Jackson was named honorable mention all-league last season.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kylee Kopatich, Olathe South, junior
As a sophomore, Kopatich was picked first-team All-Sunflower League and first-team all-state last season. She led the Sunflower League in scoring at 17.6 points per game, and ranked second with 3.5 steals per game and third with 3.6 assists per game. In October, she verbally committed to K-State.
Kendra Weledji, St. Thomas Aquinas, senior
Weledji, who has signed to play at Princeton, led the Saints to their second state title in three seasons last year. She scored nine of her team’s points in a 23-22 victory against Mill Valley in the championship. She was the most valuable player of the EKL and was first-team all-state.
Marleah Campbell, Shawnee Mission West, senior
Campell was a first-team selection on the All-Sunflower League squad last season, ranking among the leaders with 15 points and eight rebounds per game. She was also second-team all-state. Campbell has committed to Wyoming.
McKayla Ross, Shawnee Mission Northwest, senior
Ross averaged 11.4 points and three assists per game last season, which both ranked her among the leaders in the Sunflower League. She was selected first-team all-league and honorable mention all-state last season.
Tashia Jones, Leavenworth, junior
Jones was selected to the second team on the All-Sunflower League and second team all-state last season, but she is already showing glimpses of the player she could be in her final two years with the Pioneers. Jones led the Sunflower League in rebounding as a sophomore, averaging 9.5 per game. She also averaged 2.8 steals.
FOUR MUST-SEE GAMES
SM Northwest at Leavenworth, Jan. 10
This could be a decisive game in the league race with two of the top teams going head to head. Shawnee Mission Northwest has a large group of returners that finished last season on the All-Sunflower League teams. Leavenworth is led by young talent like Tashia Johnes and Tyler Johnson. Each landed on the all-conference second team.
Olathe South at SM West, Feb. 18
This game will feature the top two returning scorers in the Sunflower League in Kylee Kopatich of Olathe South who led the league last season and Marleah Campbell of Shawnee Mission West, who ranked third.
SM Northwest at Olathe Northwest, Feb. 25
The Falcons went undefeated in league play last season, but lost four talented seniors who are all playing college ball this year. That leaves Shea Shipman as the top returner. She averaged four points and four rebounds per game as a junior and has committed to Saint Louis University. Shawnee Mission Northwest finished third in the Sunflower League and returns three all-league selections.
St. Thomas Aquinas at Blue Valley North, Feb. 27
This game will feature some of the year’s best guard play. Aquinas’ Kendra Weledji and BV North’s Maria Klug. Both were selected first-team All-Eastern Kansas League last season, with Weledji taking MVP honors.