By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Dustin Gerleman not only enters his first year at Marion C. Early, but he enters his first year in coaching.
In addition, he faces a rebuilding year with the Lady Panthers, who finished 7-19 overall and 0-7 in the Summit Conference last season. They were edged 39-36 by Pleasant Hope in the first round of the Class 2 District 10 Tournament.
“This is my first year coaching, but I do know that we lost some key starters from last year, and we are gaining several freshmen,” Gerleman said, “so this will be a rebuilding year.”
The Lady Panthers’ key losses include Abby Painter, who averaged 13 points per game; Michaela Presley, 9 ppg; and Casey Cossins, 7 ppg.
“Losing our top three scorers from last year (78 percent of our scoring), being young and having a new, first-year coach, the players will have to learn a new coaching philosophy,” Gerleman said of the challenges facing his young team.
But Gerleman does have experience returning to this year’s squad.
Keaton Painter, a junior guard, started all 26 games last year. “Keaton will bring experience and leadership to the team and will bring us lots of energy on the defensive end,” Gerleman said. “We will also rely on her to be a scorer this year.”
Hannah Wooliver, junior forward, and Bailey Jess, a senior post player, are the two other letterwinners who have experience from last year.
“Our goal is to improve from last year’s record,” Gerleman said. “We are in a good place to start fresh. We have a talented group of young freshmen that we are looking forward to helping build a program.”
• Karley Painter – freshman guard – “Karley will bring lots of energy on the defensive end.”
• Libby Painter – freshman guard – “Libby will probably be handling the ball a lot for us and we will be relying on her to be a shooter.”
• Eliza Francka – freshman guard – “Eliza will bring a lot of quickness to our press.”
• Olivia Blehm – freshman guard – “Olivia will also bring some speed and quickness on the defensive end.”
• Becca Presley – freshman post – “Becca will be a good post presence.”
• Gracie Spencer – freshman post – “Gracie will also be a post presence for us.”
Marion C. Early opens the season in the Fair Play Tournament on Nov. 19, and will compete in the Walnut Grove Classic (Dec. 19) and the Seymour Tournament (Jan. 7).
“We’d like to be more of a threat in conference and district play this year,” Gerleman said. “Our biggest strength will be speed and quickness. We are hoping to focus on our pressure defense and get a lot of easy baskets off turnovers. We will make sure we are well-conditioned to be able to get after it and apply the type of defensive pressure we’d like.
“We also want to work on our scoring. We have multiple players with the ability to score and we plan to do a lot of skill work to improve upon their talents.”