Heading into the final season in the Kalamazoo Valley Association, Pennfield wants to make its last journey through the conference a memorable one.
Pennfield will be leaving the 10-team Kalamazoo Valley Association after this year and starting in the fall, the Panthers will comepete in the Interstate Eight Conference.
The Panthers’ girls’ basketball team is hoping for success and a run to the top of the league in the final year in the KVA.
“This is our last year in the KVA and we want to go out with a bang. We are going for No. 1. That’s on our bucket list to win this, especially for these seniors,” Pennfield girls’ basketball coach Rick Saldana said.
Pennfield finished in the middle of the pack in the KVA last season and ended with a 11-7 record in conference and a 11-9 mark overall after falling in the first round of districts.
The Panthers will again compete with longtime KVA rivals Olivet, Delton Kellogg, Maple Valley and Galesburg-Augusta this season. But going forward, Pennfield probably won’t be playing those teams as the KVA generally plays 18 league games, only leaving two non-conference dates open.
Instead, Pennfield will be playing teams in the Interstate Eight, as the new conference will include Harper Creek, Marshall, Coldwater, Jackson Lumen Christi, Jackson Northwest, Parma Western and Charlotte.
“The last year in the conference will be bitter sweet. I like the KVA. I think we excel because every team in the KVA challenges each other team,” Saldana said. “But it’s sweet going to a new league because we’ll see some new teams and some new faces.”
To make a run in its final year in the KVA, Pennfield will depend on an experienced core group of players.
The Panthers return four seniors who started last year in Shelby Miller, Hannah Lenz, Armani Anderson and Baylee Shelton. Pennfield also brings back two underclassmen with starting experience in sophomores Ashley Peterson and Alexa Stephenson.
Miller, Anderson and Shelton were all All-City members last year. Miller is in her fourth year on the varsity and was voted team MVP last year after leading the team in 15.8 points per game and four rebounds. Anderson is a third-year varsity player who averaged 7.8 points and eight rebounds before injuring her knee at the end of last year. Shelton was a key role player last season and averaged six points per game and five rebounds.
“We have a lot of returning seniors, plus some new blood coming in,” Saldana said. “It looks really good for us right now because with the old and the new we are building for the future, but we we are also set up to win now.”
Some of those new faces that Pennfield expects to be in the playing rotation include sophomores England Bennett, Brooke Lenz and Jessica Roan, as well as senior Alia Hack, who should get more playing time in her final year in the program.
“Our guard play is a strength for this team. Our guards are strong and I think we can surprise people with our ability to put the ball in the bucket,” Saldana said. “But it will all come down to defense. We are pretty good on defense, but I want to be great on defense and that’s what we are stressing every practice. That’s our key.”
Bill Broderick is the sports editor of the Enquirer and can be reached at (269) 966-0678