Despite a young roster featuring only two seniors, guards Devrie Attendorn and Courtney Reed, it wouldn't be surprising if the Heber Springs Lady Panthers make it back to the Class 4A state tournament after a one-year hiatus. And, perhaps make some noise.
Last year's team won the 2-4A conference and seemed prime for a run at state but came up on the short end of a few questionable calls against Brookland in first round of the regional tournament.
Despite a young roster featuring only two seniors, guards Devrie Attendorn and Courtney Reed, it wouldn't be surprising if the Heber Springs Lady Panthers make it back to the Class 4A state tournament after a one-year hiatus. And, perhaps make some noise. Last year's team won the 2-4A conference and seemed prime for a run at state but came up on the short end of a few questionable calls against Brookland in first round of the regional tournament. The Lady Panthers lost a viable inside presence in standout post player Magen LaRosa, but Coach Jamey Riddle, entering his seventh season as head coach, said his team will have a physical frontcourt. “I felt like we found some players that can step in and fill that spot. That's something the younger bunch brings. They are physical. Mackenzie Martin, Bridget Muse, McKenzie Cresswell and Skye Miller being so quick…They allow us to be a little more physical. I can put Martin on about anybody. She is physical enough to hold her own and stop penetration. “We've got to be able to play a little man-to-man [defense] this year and have that in our back pocket when we need to go to it. We've got our 1-3-1 down but right now we are just looking at different groups and combinations and that's going to help us this coming year.” Heber returns junior guards Skylar Johnson and Hannah Johnson, plus junior post players Janae Long and Mary Lawrence ¬ all who received significant playing time last season. Skylar Johnson can shoot the lights out as she displayed by making 4-of-4 shots in the first half against Quitman last week. Each Thursday in July the Lady Panthers have battled teams such as Mountain View, Southside Batesville, Mount Vernon-Enola, Rose Bud, Lonoke and Calico Rock. Additionally, Heber held a team camp that included several more schools, including West Side and Quitman, last Tuesday and Wednesday at the Panther Den. “It was great competition. Mountain View and Rose Bud have been traditionally good and Mount Vernon is going to be a team to compete with in Class 1A this year, no doubt,” said Riddle. “I think it was really good for all of us.” Riddle doesn't recall his team losing. But, like many coaches, he doesn't watch the scoreboard very close in the summer. “We didn't lose many if we did lose any. I'm mostly worried about what we are doing offensively and defensively. I feel pretty good about our offense but we still have a long way to go on defense. We've got to do things like blocking out and being in position but it was a good summer for us. We accomplished what we needed to.” During the final week, the air conditioning was out in the gymnasium, creating a sweltering environment for basketball. “It's never going to be perfect in here for them but conditioning wise, especially this week, we played a lot of games and I felt like we were there,” said Riddle. “They will be off two or three weeks now but hopefully they will pick it right back up and we won't have to focus on conditioning as much as we have in the past. In last Wednesday's 40-21 win over Quitman, Heber closed the first half with a 16-2 run, starting with six straight from Skylar Johnson, who finished the exhibition game with 15 points to lead the Lady Panthers. Skylar's twin sister, Hannah Johnson, drained two consecutive three-pointers in the closing minute of the first half, including one from each corner, as the Lady Panthers took a 21-7 lead to halftime. Martin, who finished with nine points, opened the second half with a jumper from right elbow and the Lady Panthers built a 27-9 advantage after Lawrence scored in transition and Skylar Johnson swiped a steal and scored. Quitman forward Shayna Burklow scored a team-high 11 points, including six in a row as the Lady Bulldogs sliced their deficit to 30-15 with 10 minutes left in the game. Following a three-pointer from Alex Bohannan, Heber put the game away with an 8-0 spurt, highlighted by Long four points from Long.