The Lady Panthers’ lack of familiarity with high school’s highest level doesn’t worry head coach John McHenry however, who believes that this year’s squad is more than capable of improving on last season’s 1-19 record.
“This year, I have two seniors and a great bunch of sophomores,” said the fifth-year head coach. “Our freshman had a great season playing (junior varsity) last season, and now they’re all varsity ball players. We’re shooting to be .500 and with the RPI rankings, anything is possible.”
Because this year’s team features several skilled players at every position, identifying key contributors is somewhat difficult. At the guard positions however, the Lady Panthers figure to be led by sophomore Hayden Leggit and junior Ayanna Silas, who is back in Cortez after spending last year at Fruita Monument High School.
Senior Payton Keith, who averaged 5.5 points during last season’s games for which statistics were available will also see time at the guard position, as will senior Allie Martinez, who has not played basketball in a few years.
“I have a lot of ball handlers and a lot of shooters,” McHenry explained, when asked about his backcourt. “We saw a lot of teams last year that pressed us and we’re concentrating on being able to break that press. We need to be secure with the (ball) and we want our players to get a little nasty with each other in practice, so that they can used to that.”
While M-CHS’ backcourt will look to provide stability, several talented front court players will look to provide the Lady Panthers with rebounding, defense, and points in the paint. Among those figuring to play a significant role down low are freshman center Paige Yarbrough, sophomore forward Priestley Frost and junior forward Kaily Case.
“(Yarbrough) is about 6 feet tall, and she has good range,” said McHenry. “I have a lot of posts who will be taking up space. Teams will have to respect our inside game and that should free up our guards.”
Coming off a winless season in Intermountain League play, the Lady Panthers are all too familiar with the difficulties associated with facing off against perennial league powerhouses such as Centauri, Alamosa, Pagosa Springs, Monte Vista and Bayfield.
Speaking about his team’s league opponents, McHenry pointed out that Centauri is currently the No. 2 ranked team in CHSAA’s Class 3A preseason poll and Pagosa is ranked fifth overall. The Lady Panthers coach believes that his team can be competitive however, and hopes that players can gain confidence during early season, non-conference games.
“We have some ‘feel good games’ early in the season that will get us some experience and hopefully build our confidence,” McHenry said. “I would like to do well in our early season games.”
The Lady Panthers will open their season with a home game against Mancos on Nov. 30.