It's again time to follow the bouncing ball, as the prep hoops season has arrived.
A host of quality players have moved on to college, and a few students have transferred, but it looks like another exciting season is ahead.
Today, I will preview the girls' scene at Columbia County's public high schools, and next week I'll take a look at the boys' teams.
On both accounts, the battle to be the best in the county is wide open, but when it comes to the girls ... keep an eye on Bill Richey's Lakeside Lady Panthers.
Lakeside: The Lady Panthers were 9-15 last season, but with four top players from a year ago returning, that win total should increase..
Coach Richey will have one of the area's top guard tandems in junior Toya Coard and senior Nichole Bennett. A year ago, the two combined for more than 25 points per game.
The Lady Panthers also return junior Kelly Newman, who averaged seven boards per game. Brittney Watts will start at off-guard, but the key to the team could be junior Molly McFerran and senior Erica Jansen - they can provide some interior defensive and rebounding help. Also look for sophomore Kim Leeds to help off the bench at guard.
Strengths: Guard play and leadership from Coard and Bennett.
Weaknesses: Lack of depth and experience inside; rugged Region 3-AAAA schedule.
Greenbrier: Last season, coach Garrett Black guided the Lady Wolfpack to a school record 13 wins; however, the team has lost Kellie Tiller and her 17-point average to Georgia Southern.
This year Greenbrier will be more balanced, and it's unlikely they will be out-hustled by anyone.
The Lady Pack will have size up front, led by Lindsey and Katie Sutherland. Lindsey, a senior, paced the team in rebounding a year ago, while sister Katie, a junior, was third. The younger Sutherland had some trouble with fouls a year ago - that must improve this season.
Rounding out the front court is senior Christina Large, who chipped in five points per game off the bench last season.
Coach Black needs to find someone to join senior Erica Johnson in the backcourt, and Johnson needs to fill the scoring void left by Tiller. Last season she averaged sevenpoints - look for her to be in double figures this season.
A group of underclassman will fight for minutes, including junior Cat Banks; sophomore Amy Rigdon; sophomore Kiley Moranski; and sophomore Lucy Wolfe.
Greenbrier will be more balanced than last season, and if Lakeside doesn't play up to its potential, the green machine could be tops in the county again.
Strengths: size and experience inside.
Weaknesses: Who will be the go-to scorer with Tiller gone? And Region 3-AAAA is very tough.
Evans: The Lady Knights are in killer Region 4-AAAAA and earned only one region win last year - it won't get easier this season.
Shannon Colbert and Kiley Smith begin their senior campaigns, and both will finish their careers as four-year starters. Their court savvy should be important during the final minutes of close games.
Evans also returns inside workhorse Ashley Brodhecker. The sophomore has the strength to dominate the glass and key a lot of buckets in the paint. Christy Steflik provides some size for the relatively small squad.
Strengths: Solidarity, speed and senior leadership.
Weakness: Lack of height.
Harlem: The Lady Bulldogs struggled in 2000-01. This season should be better, as several key players return, most notably Laura Tam. As a junior guard she averaged nine points and four boards per game last season. Tam could emerge as a quality scorer this season.
Also back is center Sharday Taylor, who pulled in eight rebounds per contest a year ago. Guard Clare Hatcher, forward Nila James and guard Yolanda Villeza also are returnees with experience.
Two transfers could help inside - they are Shannon Camp and Jessica Riddick. Also, Latoya Johnson and Sara Wacker could provide scoring punch off the bench.
Strengths: Tam and Taylor have experience and ability.
Weaknesses: Can anyone help Tam with the scoring load? Harlem had a tough time getting the ball in the hole last season.
Pre-Season All County Team
Guard: Toya Coard, Lakeside - averaged 13 points as a sophomore, great outside shooter. Erica Johnson, Greenbrier - averaged 7 points last season, but that scoring rate should increase this season.
Forward: Nichole Bennett, Lakeside - terrific all-around talent, does everything well, will play college ball. Lindsey Sutherland, Greenbrier - hustles, rebounds and plays defense as well as anyone in the county.
Center: Ashley Brodhecker, Evans - Had solid, if not surprising, freshman campaign, and has a bright future.
Best shooter - Toya Coard; Best Defender - Lindsey Sutherland; Best Rebounder - Lindsey Sutherland; Smartest Player - Nichole Bennett.
County Player of Year - Nichole Bennett. She will edge out teammate Coard for the honor. Bennett does everything well.
Honorable mentions - Laura Tam (Harlem); Kelly Newman (Lakeside); Katie Sutherland (Greenbrier); Cat Banks (Greenbrier); Shannon Colbert (Evans).
Ashley Brown's radio program can be heard from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday on News-Talk Sports 1630 AM. His e-mail address is AB@WRDWAM.com.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.