North Platte enters the season as reigning KCI Conference and Class 2 District 16 champions, not unfamiliar territory for a program with seven playoff trips in eight seasons.
The Panthers went 24-5 last year, a mark that included a league sweep, before surviving a wild District 16 title game with South Harrison in Maysville, Mo. to forge a playoff return. They heavily relied on a senior class that included all-state, all-district and All-KCI performer Erin Manville along with Emmie Lee, Maddie Lee, Brittney Gerling and Kaycee Hodgson.
Those five seniors were the starting lineup in coach Ryan Davis’ first season as head coach, and he lost a total of seven players from last year’s squad.
“We hope to build on it, and we lost a lot of really good players from last year,” Davis said. “But the plan is we that we have a lot of good players that helped us have a good year, and they come back and have a lot of young players who are also looking to step in so we’re excited.”
North Platte’s top two returners will be regular bench contributors.
Gracie Roach, a junior, began the season in the starting lineup with Manville recovering from a torn ACL. She ended up averaging 5.0 points, 4.0 rebound and 2.5 steals per game, while sophomore Janell Manville also regularly rotated in the frontcourt, averaging 4.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
In addition, senior Abby Fisher, juniors McKenna Fulton and Alley Rickel and sophomores Grace Rice and McKenzie Sams will have larger roles after being on the periphery a year ago. Davis also expects freshmen McKenzie Brockhoff and Jordyn Smith to contribute.
“I think we’re a young team but I’m ready to see what we’ve got,” Roach said. ”I feel like we’re going to do good as a team. Last year, we had a lot of stars, but I feel like we’re going to have to work as a team to have the same record and I feel like we can do it.”
North Platte’s season ended with a 57-53 loss to Santa Fe. Most of this year’s roster experienced the high of the 53-52 comeback win over South Harrison that featured a technical foul late that cost the Bulldogs the lead and the game. The players also endured the difficult goodbye to the seniors in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We’re going to have to have a lot of people step up because we lost starting five, but we also got a lot of girls who got a lot of playing time, as well,” Davis said. “So we’re looking to them and it’s their chance to take over for North Platte so I’m excited to see what they’ll do with it.”