By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When Rogersville takes the court this season, it will feature plenty of new faces.
Rogersville is also set to welcome a new coach in Matt Bolger, who takes over for Denny McHenry.
Bolger spent the past season as director of basketball operations for the Lady Bears. Prior to that, he enjoyed a successful 46-5 run at Regina High School in Iowa City, Iowa.
This will be Bolger’s 10th season as a head coach at the high school level.
“This is going to be an interesting year because of all that was lost from last year,” Bolger said. “I suppose that makes it a good time to implement a new system and new coach, but I’m not entirely sure what to expect yet. The main obstacles to those goals are our girls having to learn a new system and adapt to much different roles on the team than they’ve been used to.”
After last year’s team finished with a 24-8 record and a Class 3 third-place finish, the Lady Wildcats will need to find replacements for a quintet of talented graduating class.
Jordyn Gault, Gracie Gorman, Sydney Dunavant, Maci McHenry and Taylor Overstreet move on from the program and take nearly 70 percent of the team’s scoring and 50 percent of its rebounding with them.
“We finished third in state — the highest finish ever for girls basketball,” Bolger said. “The team was very senior-dominated, they had played a lot of basketball together and their senior season culminated with quite a run.”
Rogersville will be led this season by a pair of returning seniors in Sophia Nixon (6.8 ppg) and Shelby Ince (6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
“Sophia’s quickness and strength have always been her greatest assets and made her a very effective driver, but she has become a more well-rounded offensive threat who is poised to have a big year,” Bolger said. “Shelby will play a very important role for us as she is very versatile and able to play both inside and out. She’s strong and physical but also has a decent outside shot.”
Classmates Shayley Dunavant and Jessy Bond also return to the roster.
With a large number of graduation losses, Rogersville will also feature a host of varsity newcomers eager to make an impact.
Bolger expects Gracie Kibby, Lilli Caldwell, Lauren Williams, Kierra Clark, Laiken Leonarduzzi, Jessi Jenkins and Timbre Banks to compete for playing time and help fill out the varsity roster.
With so many new and inexperienced players on the roster, Bolger hopes his team is able to quickly develop the needed chemistry needed to be effective on offense.
“The biggest challenges we face are incorporating a lot of new faces into the varsity lineup and asking former role players to really step up and have a much bigger role for this year’s team,” Bolger said. “Because of that, I am definitely worried about scoring points, especially early as we get comfortable with a new style of play.”
While Rogersville’s offense make take some time to get rolling in earnest, Bolger is confident the team’s defensive approach can keep the Lady Wildcats competitive.
“My style is pretty adaptive to the players on my team, so we will stick with a defense-first philosophy that these girls are used to — but I think we’ll try to pick up the pace a little bit,” Bolger said. “I would say this team plays pretty good defense, which is a nice place to start. They’re used to really clamping down on the other team and we are going to continue to focus on that.”
Bolger also believes that if Rogersville is to challenge for another postseason run, developing depth will be another key focus throughout the season.
I would say our primary goals are to compete for a conference and district title,” Bolger said. “My hope is that we show a lot of improvement over the course of the season and, by the end of it, we are a pretty tough team to contend with. We will be fine if stay healthy but also develop a little depth at the same time. We are not going to have a lot of bodies this year, so keeping everyone on the floor will be very important for us.”
The Lady Wildcats open the season Dec. 2 with the Fair Grove Invitational Tournament.