By Amanda Perkins
Following a successful 2015-16 campaign, coach Jimbo Blackwell is back to coach the Eminence Redwings. Having led the Doniphan Donettes to two final fours during his 13-year tenure there, he has high hopes to bring the Redwings back for the first time since they won it all in 2012.
Eminence really heated up late last season, winning seven straight games before losing in the season finale, a double overtime contest against Bunker for the district title. They finished 16-11, their best record since 2012 and an astounding improvement over the two total wins from the previous year.
The Redwings lost just one player to graduation, but she was a good one; Hayli Smith was the team’s best defender and three-point shooter, as well as a great leader and an all-conference player.
This means the team returns four starters and five of their top six. Many had major roles on Eminence’s volleyball team that took fourth in Class 1 last month.
Savanna Conner, an all-district senior, led the team in assists and also in scoring with 14.6 ppg. Classmate Madison Keeling was the leading rebounder and also an all-district selection with 14.2 ppg.
Junior Mariah Smith averaged 10.8 points and led the team in steals. Wendy Smith was the first off the bench last year. The junior is a skilled rebounder and will also assist in the post.
Sophomore Sydney Williams returns as point guard. She was the team free throw percentage leader and put up 12.6 points per game last year. Meaghan Byerly came out at Christmas last year, and the much-improved sophomore stands to help at the post.
New faces include Tori Harlow, sophomore transfer student from Bunker, Cheyenne Garcia, a Winona transfer, and incoming freshman Peyton Shelton.
Coach Blackwell said team strengths include balance and experience. “Last year, we had five girls in double figures scoring,” he said. “We have experienced players back who have been through it now and have been through some big games.”
The team will both pressure and play man, and will run an up-tempo offense. “We like to get it out and run and we like to shoot a lot of threes,” said Blackwell. “Our goals are to try to get as good as we can get by that last week of February, and to be good enough to make a run at the post-season.”
The Redwings will open their season against St. Paul Lutheran at Farmington on November 21.