By Denise Tucker
After a trip to the Class 3 final four in 2014-15, the Buffalo Lady Bison dropped off a bit last season.
The Lady Bison recorded an 11-15 overall record and a 3-3 finish, good for fourth place, in the Central Ozark Conference-Small Division.
Gone from last season’s team are Buffalo three key starters.
Taylor Faulkner, a 5-4 guard who scored more than 1,800 points in her career and averaged 23.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.3 steals per game, is now playing basketball for Avila University.
Haley Gilpin, a 5-9 forward who was one of the Lady Bison’s leading scorers, rebounders and defenders, averaged 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds, and is playing volleyball for Evangel University.
Carley Smith, a 5-7 forward was one the team’s leading rebounders and contributed 1.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
“When you lose three starters off your team, there are always going to be holes to fill,” said coach Tom Stokes, who is entering his fourth season as Lady Bison coach. “These three young ladies were starters on our final four team in 2015. They combined for approximately 2,800 points in their career, so we are going to have to have some girls step up and score this year.
“Our girls, this year, know they are going to have to contribute more. Graduation definitely has taken a toll on our program the last two years with us now losing all five starters off our final four team. But the girls know the door of opportunity is wide open for some of them to step up and contribute.”
Stokes will be looking to returning starters Courtney Austin and Emily Rice.
Austin, a 5-7 sophomore guard, averaged 11.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and shot 75 percent from the free-throw line. Rice, a 5-6 sophomore guard, averaged 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1 steal per game.
“Courtney Austin and Emily Rice are coming off fantastic freshman years,” Stokes said. “They both really stepped up and earned their starting roles last year. They were our second- and third-leading scorers as freshmen.
“They have unlimited potential and have a great work ethic. They also love the game of basketball. It will be exciting to watch these girls progress as they continue their basketball careers.”
The lone senior on the Lady Bison roster is Hannah Williams, a 5-9 forward who average 1 point and 3.2 rebounds per game.
The rest of Buffalo’s young roster includes: Emma Wolf, a 6-1 junior center; Taryn Elia, a 5-5 junior guard; Maddie Jacobs, a 5-6 sophomore guard and Emilee Todd, a 5-4 junior guard.
The Lady Bison hope to get contributions from newcomers Lexi Jack, 5-4 sophomore guard; Allie Maddux, 5-7 sophomore forward; Madison Andrews, 5-7 freshman forward; MaKayla Short, 5-5 freshman guard; Bethany Lancaster, 5-9 freshman forward and Jalen Cody, 5-4 freshman guard.
“With only two starters back we will have some question marks and positions up for grabs,” said Stokes, who is 48-35 at Buffalo and 294-211 overall. “We have several girls who will be competing for playing time. We will be competitive and play hard every time we take the court – that is the one thing I can guarantee.
“As far as wins and losses, we will just take one game at a time and give it our all and the record will take care of itself. I do know that the girls are very excited to get things started and so is the coaching staff.”