The bad news: North Platte’s program hit a major slump last season. The good news: almost everyone returns including some developing talent that learned from a difficult schedule.
North Platte finished 3-20 and bowed out in the first round of the Class 2 District 15 tournament in 2016-17 — a year after winning the KCI Conference and reaching the playoffs. The Panthers were replacing all five starters and two reserves.
This season, North Platte brings back all five starters and only lost one senior.
“I’m excited because a lot of the same girls from last year are here but then we added some,” said North Platte senior guard Gracie Roach, a contributor on the 2016 district championship team who transitioned into the starting lineup last year. “It’ll be exciting to see the same things but improvement between us working together again.”
North Platte struggled start to finish and went 0-7 in KCI play.
Early in the season, Alley Rickel — now a senior — showed flashes of scoring ability, but her outside shooting became inconsistent. The Panthers never developed a go-to scorer, but relied heavily on Rickel, Roach and senior guard McKenna Fulton.
North Platte also returns senior guard McKenzie Sams and junior forwards Janell Manville and Grace Rice. Ryan Davis, entering his third year as Panthers head coach, also expects sophomores McKenzie Brockhoff and Jordyn Smith to add size at the forward spots this season.
Despite last year’s struggles, Davis believes a big jump could be possible for the historically strong North Platte program.
“I thought the KCI was very strong last year and I expect it to be as strong or stronger this year,” he said. “We’re bringing back a lot of the group that went through that but also a lot of the kids have seen success before as well. I thought they fought better throughout the year last year, even if the win-loss record didn’t show it with some of the competition we were playing.”
Rice specifically made a big jump in the season, scoring 17 late in the regular season during a KCI loss to Plattsburg. Rickel scored in double figures in a third of the games and led a quick 2-0 start for the Panthers before the season turned sour.
North Platte must find a way to score more to go with its still stingy defense after being held to 30 or fewer points in 8 of 23 games.
“I think we have a lot of girls that care,” Rickel said. “We know how each other works together so I think this year bringing back the same ones means I think we will do a lot better.”