Nov. 5—LEBANON — The Lebanon Lady Tigers racked up 11 wins a season ago.
With a majority of that team returning, the Tigers hope to take a step forward this year.
"I am really excited for this year," Lebanon head coach Candice Huckstep said. "This is the first year I have had four seniors, so I excited to have that kind of experience. Even our juniors got a lot of experience last year. We are coming into the season with a little more confidence under our belts."
The Tigers did graduate last year's leading scorer in Alexis Wines, who was a 1,000-point scorer.
But the Tigers bring back their next five leading scorers and rebounders, who all played valuable roles last year.
While they may not have a "go-to" scorer, the Tigers balance is something that should be a strength of the team.
"We are going to miss Alexis, just like we missed Lyla Barr the year before and all our seniors," Huckstep said. "But the nice thing with this team is we are going to have more balanced scoring this year, and any time you can have that, other teams can't hone in on one or two players. This summer, we saw really good balance and on every given night we have a lot of girls that can step up and do some nice things."
Lex Barr returns after averaging 8.6 points and 4.4 rebounds last year.
Maiya Newsom is back after playing just six games last year due to injury. She averaged 7.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Emily Sperry (5.2 points, 4.8 rebounds), Kylie Ottinger (4.3 points, 4.1 rebounds) and Charli Albea (3.7 points, 4.1 rebounds) all return as well.
"Maiya is looking really good and is looking fresh," Huckstep said. "She had a great summer and it's nice to have a true point guard back. Kylie Ottinger has stood out so far and we moved her to the 2-spot this year and she is looking really fast and quick. Alexandria Barr is moving to a more forward position which should create some nice things for us in our presses and defenses. Emily Sperry is strong and athletic and there is never a doubt what she is going to bring every game. We are pretty excited for this group."
With all the experience coming back, Huckstep hopes the Tigers composure and experience pays off in close games.
That is something the Tigers started to get better at last year, going 3-3 in games decided by 10 points or less after going 2-6 the year before.
"The last couple of years, our girls have gained some maturity and resilience and the ability to bounce back," Huckstep said. "They know how to handle those difficult situations, so I'm hoping this year when we get into those close games and we can come out on top."
The Tigers are aiming to win their first conference title since 2016.
The past few years, the conference has gone through Hendricks County, with Danville winning it four times and Tri-West three — including the last two.
Huckstep said the conference race is wide open this year, and the Lady Tigers are ready to give it their best shot to win it.
"The last three years we got third and our goal was to get in the top-3," Huckstep said. "That's one of our goals again, and to challenge for the top spot. Tri-West lost a lot to graduation and we played them this summer so we are excited to see them again. Danville's going to be one of the teams that will give us a run for our money and that's a game we are honing in on. But I think it's really anybody's game and we are excited for that."
The Tigers kick off the season on Wednesday, Nov. 9 when they host Cardinal Ritter.
Huckstep said the Tigers are looking to fine tune a few things prior to the season opener.
"Shooting is going to be our main focus," Huckstep said. "With us not having a 'go-to' girl everybody has to be ready to shoot at all times. Every one has the green light, but we want to find that consistency and confidence in our shooting. Defense has always been a source of pride with us and every game we usually bring our defense, we just have to make sure our offense is consistent in our shooting, handling the ball and making those smart decisions late in the game."
Will Willems is the Sports Editor of the Lebanon Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @Will_Willems.