The Hanson girls earned their fifth trip to the Class B state basketball tournament last season, and with a solid group of four returning starters, the Beavers could make a sixth appearance this season.
During that run to a state tourney berth, they very well could pick up a Cornbelt Conference title.
Coach Jim Bridge will have considerable experience – four players with at least three years in a starting role – and plenty of depth at his disposal, making fifth-ranked Hanson a tough team to compete against.
All-conference guards Kendra Cheeseman and Cassidy Graham return to lead the Beavers, who finished 21-5 last season en route to a sixth place finish at state. Cheeseman averaged 7.1 points and 5.6 assists along the way while Graham was a go-to player with 13.3 points and three steals per contest. Hanson also returns three-year starters in forwards Kelli Wenande and Leah Marsh.
“We return a solid nucleus of players and that experience – and a lot of hunger to get back to the state tourney – will be key,” Bridge said. “We are looking to go out and work hard and see what happens.”
Coming off a 14-9 season, Canistota is looking to hit the ground running with three starters returning. Led by 5-foot-10 junior Chloe Nielsen (12 ppg, 8 rpg), the Hawks are a seasoned team with seniors Kayla Marquardt (8 ppg, 7 rpg) and Natasha Letcher and junior Jenny Hofer (8 ppg) leading the way.
If Coach Lenny Schroeder can find a true outside scorer, Canistota could be in position to take the Cornbelt title.
“We need to get a fast start this season,” said Schroeder. “Last year, we lost six of our first eight games. We can’t wait until January to play good basketball. We need to come together and win the games we should win and sneak a few wins away from teams that are better than us.”
Freeman (13-8) could make a push with the return of senior Carli Lager, who missed last season with a torn ACL. The 5-6 guard suffered an injury to the same ACL over the summer, but chose rehab over a second surgery.
The Flyers also bring back all-conference guard Dina Soulek (12.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg) and junior guard Nicole Saarie (6 ppg), but staying healthy this season will be equally important to their success.
Bridgewater-Emery (10-13) returns four young starters as the Huskies will look to a group of six sophomores, two juniors and a senior for the majority of their production. Forward MacKenzie Schultz is the lone senior on the roster for first-year coach Jeff VanLeur.
Menno will also be on the younger side this season, but does have a duo capable of sharing the scoring load in junior post Kylee Kessler (11.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and sophomore guard Abby Herrboldt (8.6 ppg).
Meanwhile, Marion has four starters back from a 2-18 campaign, but hopes to rectify last season’s struggles behind seniors Katherine Luke (10.3 ppg) and Kylie Hughes (6.7 ppg). The guard tandem is entering its fourth year as backcourt starters, while sophomore Devin Nelson and junior Erica Schoenwald will also be needed for contributions.