South Lyon East girls basketball will experience life for the first time in four seasons without Gabi Bird.
Last season’s All-Area Player of the Year, now red-shirting at Central Michigan University, set school records for career points (1,270) and rebounds (749).
As a senior, the 6-foot forward averaged 17 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.4 steals as East finished 13-10 and earned a Class B district title before losing to Flat Rock in the regional semifinals.
But not all is lost for the Cougars, who return first team All-Area performer Peyton Jones. The 5-6 senior guard took advantage of the double teams placed on Bird last season as she averaged 11.7 points to go along with 3.4 rebounds per game.
“We have a very good back court combination in point guard Danielle Waranauckas and shooting guard Peyton Jones,” East coach Rob Leadley said. “Abby Jones is in her third year on varsity and should give us more offensive production this year.”
The key for East this season will be the development of the remaining supporting cast if it hopes to contend in the KLAA’s Central Division.
“Katherine Crapps and MacKenzie Mallory will pick up additional playing time after gaining some experience as underclassmen last year on varsity,” Leadley said. “They are both good ball-handlers and shooters. The addition of Erin Hale and Jessi Smith will help us in the post, too.”
Another team coming off a (Class A) district title is White Lake Lakeland (15-8), which lost first team first team All-Area pick Amanda Lock, who averaged a double-double with 12 points and seven rebounds per game.
Second team All-Area selection Alana Weyer also graduated.
“Of all the teams in the area, our varsity makeup has probably changed the most,” Lakeland coach Mike Head said. “We had four starters graduate, players who led us to back-to-back district championships. Everyone else may have lost some key players, but not to the degree we did. We’re in the redecorating mode. Our goal is to grow during the season and peak at the end.”
The Eagles finished second in the KLAA’s strong North Division and reached the regional semifinals before losing to Hartland. But the only returning starter is 5-7 senior guard Molly Stec, in her fourth varsity season.
Stec is joined in the back court by 5-5 junior guard Lauren Castellon, a third-year varsity performer.
“Molly is certainly our leader based on experience, talent and versatility,” Head said. “She will play any spot on the floor, depending on game situations. Lauren will likely be one of our leading scorers, while also taking on the opponent’s best guard defensively.”
Milford (9-11) lost a pair of key players to graduation, first team All-Area pick Elise Gustafson (now playing at Tiffin University) and second team selection Brenna Lovera (playing soccer at Northwestern University).
The top returnee is all-state cross country runner Mallory Barrett, a 5-9 junior combo guard who averaged 7.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game.
Barrett is a co-captain, along with 5-10 senior forward Brynne Gustafson and 4-9 senior guard Hannah Paulczak.
Sophomore Megan Wallace, a 5-8 guard-forward, also is expected to contribute as the Mavericks try to move up the ladder in the KLAA’s West Division.
“We are a very close group,” Milford coach David Browne said. “I think that will help us make up for areas where we may lack in overall talent. Our girls compete very hard. We may at times have a hard time scoring, but we are hoping to make up for that in defense and rebounding.”
South Lyon (4-17), despite losing four seniors to graduation, hopes to make some noise in the KLAA’s Central Division.
Key returnees include 5-3 junior point guard Arianna Camanse, 5-7 junior guard Sam Swain, 5-11 junior forward-center Larissa Dean, 5-6 senior forward Mackenzie Fisette and 5-9 junior forward Sara Stein.
Among the promising newcomers are 6-2 freshman center Chloe Grimes, 5-10 sophomore forward Morgan Booth and 5-8 freshman guard Danielle Booth.
“Last year’s team was much larger and stronger,” South Lyon coach John Mackson said. “This year’s version is a little more explosive and offensively skilled. Rebounding will be a key for this year’s team. There is a lack of size on the front line compared to a year ago. I would expect that we will be a much tougher out than we were a year ago.”