Returning all but one starter, the South Callaway Lady Bulldogs will try to improve upon last season with an athletic group that's aggressive defensively.
"We've got base our base group returning. We had a solid summer, and this group has been together," South Callaway girls basketball coach Daniel Burns said. "So, I think the team chemistry is there. We're an athletic team. So, I think we're going to try and hang our hats on playing good defense, being aggressive.
"We did some different things last year because we weren't really sure what our identity was, and we had to kind of figure that out as the season went. We made some changes, did some different things and we like what we see. So we're gonna try and be a little bit more aggressive and play hard and see what happens."
South Callaway's leader this season will be Reagan Arrowood, one of three upperclassmen on the team and the lone returning Lady Bulldog who earned postseason accolades last year, making all-district and second-team All-Show-Me.
Last season, Arrowood averaged 10.6 points per game, four rebounds per game, two steals per game and one assist per game while shooting 34.7 percent from the field, 23.9 percent from deep and 53.4 percent from the free-throw line.
"I'm super excited to see how she continues to improve because...she's a natural-born leader," Burns said of Arrowood. "The kids gravitate towards her. She's well-liked. She's respected because she shows up -- she hasn't missed a practice since I've been coach. She hasn't missed a meeting since I've been coach. She shows up to everything, even stuff that's optional -- she's always there. She wants to come in in the offseason. She's that type of player that always wants to improve her game.
"So as a coach, she loves that. That has not changed this year, and she's making everybody else around her better, which has been the most impressive part so far, just in practice and over the summer. Not only has she improved her game, she's making everybody else around her better, which I think a true leader does."
Madelyn Radmacher, a sophomore who will be taking on a more significant role this season, will replace Lacey Matthews as South Callaway's center.
"She will kind of take that role this year," Burns said of Radmacher. "Very similar to how Lacey (Matthews) is body type wise, she's athletic. They're both really good pole vaulters. So they're very similar. So she's going to take that role. And then Jackie (Jacquelynn) Boese started a few games for us last year, too. She will play that position a little bit, too. But we've got a revolving door with some other girls that we can move around in positions."
Outside of Arrowood, Radmacher and Boese, the Lady Bulldogs' returning players from last year's varsity team are Kelsey Wetherell and McKenzie Laughlin.
"I've been very impressed with McKenzie Laughlin and Kelsey Wetherell," Burns said. "Those are two players that would have big games here and there last season. I know McKenzie had some injuries early on. Kelsey also had some injuries during the season; both of them missed some time. But they're the type of players that are very good on the defensive end and can have a breakout game at any time.
"If Reagan's shots aren't falling or she's having a rough game, those two can help her out. And if they're all three firing on all cylinders, then we have potential to score some points, which is what we struggled with last year."
South Callaway's newcomers to the varsity team are sophomore Morgan Wolfe and freshmen Stella Meloy, Isabella Waterson, Madison Althaus and Natalie Price.
"We expect some of those girls to step in," Burns said. "That's Isabella Waterson. She's a freshman; she'll play that center role as well. She's a taller, post-type of player; she will play meaningful minutes. Stella Malloy is a guard freshman. She plays really hard. Does a great job on the defensive end. Natalie Price, same freshman -- defensive mindset.
"We're undersized. That's the story of South Callaway the past couple of years, we've just been undersized. So we'll play hard, hang our hat on playing good defense and hopefully improve on offense from last season.
"But Natalie Price will give me some meaningful minutes as well. And then Maddie Althaus, another freshman, she can shoot the ball. She's had a great couple of weeks of practice so far. I've been really impressed with her. She can help us a little bit on the offensive side; she can shoot it.
"So we're relying on a lot of freshmen to come in and help us. With a young team, you have to do that. So we're excited for the challenges, and kind of there's going to be some growing pains like there is for any young team. But we're ready to face them, and I'm excited to get started."
The Lady Bulldogs will face formidable competition in the Show-Me Conference, with two teams winning a district title (Fatima and St. Elizabeth) and one a district runner-up (Linn) a season ago. South Callaway's in-county rival, New Bloomfield, won't play this season as it didn't have enough girls for a team.
"It's a solid group, and seems like every year there's a new team," Burns said. "We're all ups and downs, especially for us with being a small school. I know Linn had a solid year last year. North Callaway, not in our conference. But some of the other schools, Fatima is going to be strong. Like always, I know he's got a lot of his kids coming back. I know they're gonna be up there. Russellville it's another solid group. So it's unfortunate New Bloomfield was not able to field a team this year.
"I think Fatima is the team to beat. That's my opinion."
This will be the Show-Me's final season and the final year South Callaway plays conference games against Fatima, the Show-Me's largest school, and St. Elizabeth, a perennially strong Class 1 team.
"It is kind of nice to play schools that are similar sizes as us," Burns said. "I know we've had a run of some really, really good teams where we're competing with teams like Fatima and having success there. But with a small school, it's hard to stay consistent with those teams. With them being a larger school, they have that advantage, and we don't. So we're excited about something new and playing some different teams."
Next season, the Lady Bulldogs will join fellow Show-Me schools New Bloomfield, Linn, Russellville and Eugene in the Central State 8. The conference will include current Lewis & Clark Conference teams Harrisburg and Fayette, and Tipton, reigning Class 2 state champion, from the Kaysinger Conference.
Focusing on the near future, South Callaway will open the season against Vienna at 6 p.m. tonight at South Callaway High School.
"We're just ready to get started," Burns said. "We're ready to keep the momentum rolling from a strong summer. Now, summer's a lot different than the regular season, but we're moving in the right direction. The kids are excited. We're excited. As on paper, we weren't very successful last year, but we didn't have anybody quit. Everybody came back, and they're all excited. So, as a coach, that's all I can really ask for. We'll continue to move forward and get better.