NEW MADISON — This year’s version of the Tri-Village girls basketball team will look significantly different from the squads that advanced to the regional tournament each of the past four seasons.
Some of the changes at Tri-Village will make the Lady Patriots stronger while others present challenges they will have to overcome.
“It’s definitely a new team this year,” Tri-Village girls basketball coach Brad Gray said. “Some of the heavy cornerstones of the past few teams are no long with us, but we still have some major pieces who are.”
The changes are heavily influenced by the loss of three players to graduation, two of whom were four-year varsity players. Shaye Thomas, Teha Richards and Elizabeth Collins have departed, leading to some changes in the Patriot lineup.
Wing players Ecko Brown, a junior, and Lexie Bruner, a senior, return to the Tri-Village starting lineup along with post player Krystal Falknor, a senior.
Tri-Village will rely a lot on Falknor, a four-year varsity starter who has a chance to eclipse 1,000 career points this season. Falknor was named to the Southwest District special mention team last year by The Associated Press as she averaged 12.1 points per game and a team-best 8.1 rebounds per game.
The 6-foot senior needs to be a big presence in the paint, Gray said, but also will use her versatility and move around, including on the perimeter.
“We expect big things from her,” Gray said. “We really need Krystal to take on a scorer’s mentality more than she has in the past.”
Brown and Bruner scored 7.9 and 7.6 points per game, respectively, last year. Along with Falknor, they provide a strong core for Tri-Village to build around this season.
In regards to the other two starting spots, Gray doesn’t expect any one player to try to replace Richards or Thomas, who both scored more than 1,000 points in their varsity careers and combined for more than 30 points and eight assists a game last year.
“I don’t know you replace the two kids that we lost,” Gray said.
Junior Raya Mikesell, who averaged 3.4 points and 1.2 assists a game off the bench last year, takes over as the starting point guard.
Senior Heather Ferris, who had 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds a game last season, will step into the other starting spot. She’s a post player unlike Richards, who was a wing.
With Ferris’ and Mikesell’s past varsity experience, both are ready to assume bigger roles this year, Gray said.
“Both those kids, even though they’re coming in as first-year starters, they got to play on the team during state year,” Gray said, referencing the Lady Patriots trip to the state final four in 2012. “They’ve been through the big games, as well.”
Adding Ferris to the starting lineup, Tri-Village now has a pair of post players starting.
“This year we’re going back to a more traditional three out, two in,” Gray said.
Not only does Tri-Village have an increased post presence this year, the Lady Patriots are taller in general.
“All of our kids are tall for their positions,” Gray said. “It’s probably the tallest team at every position I’ve had.”
With the extra height on the floor, Tri-Village will run more of a half-court offense even though the Patriots still will try to get the ball and go quickly at times.
“This year I think our strength in going to be more in a half-court set,” Gray said. “I think that you’ll see us slow it down a little more than we have in the past.”
Another change for Tri-Village is more depth off the bench. The Patriots will dress 11 players for varsity games this year, all of whom could help the team.
Freshmen Allie Downing and Danika Mann will be the first two players off the bench. Downing will play some point guard and wing while Mann is a post player.
Freshman Rachel Miller also will see some varsity action off the bench. Sophomores Taylor Dubbs, Shelbey Dowler and Brooke Godown round out the varsity roster.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our bench this year, more so than I’ve had in the past,” Gray said. “I really like our depth this year. Between our depth and our size, that’s two things we really haven’t had a lot of.”
While Tri-Village can’t live off past accolades, this season’s Lady Patriots expect to win a lot of games and continue the program’s success.
“It’s these kids’ turns to kind of prove themselves,” Gray said. “Our expectations don’t change. We expect to have a lot of success.”