BROOKLAND — Joe Baltz is excited about his team’s potential.
Brookland returns its top three scorers from last year’s team that finished 11-14 overall and 8-6 in the 4A-3 conference. Two likely starters who missed most of last season with knee injuries also return and a couple of sophomores will also be in the mix for the Lady Bearcats.
“Just looking at the kids, I’m really excited about them,” said Baltz, who guided Brookland to the Class 4A state tournament semifinals in 2019. “The more excited about the talent level that you feel like you have and the experience, the more anxious all this COVID stuff makes me feel. I’ve got so much returning talent on the team. I have seven seniors on the team and five of those started most or a handful of games last year.”
Hannah Boling, a 5-7 senior forward who is in her third year as a starter, averaged 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game to lead the Lady Bearcats last season.
Described as a “slasher type” by Baltz for her offensive skills, Boling scored 30 points against Blytheville and 23 against Batesville Southside last season. She shot 51.1 percent from the field.
Senior guard Anna Joy Allen averaged 8.0 points while making a team-high 26 3-point shots. She scored 23 points against Southside and had 15 in the Lady Bearcats’ district tournament loss to Highland.
Carleigh Smith, a 6-0 senior post, also returns to the starting lineup after averaging 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds last season. Gracie Gramling, a 6-0 senior guard, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season last year.
Faith Champlin, a 5-6 senior guard, is also back from a knee injury that limited her to nine games last season.
“I have a lot of kids we’ve had to lean on to score at different times and then Gracie and Faith are kids I look at as having the potential to be our leading scorer on the year,” Baltz said. “To get those two added in with what we already have, I feel like we have a lot more options with what we were dealing with through last season.”
Helena Garcia, a 5-7 senior guard, gained some starting experience last season. Garcia sank some big shots for the Lady Bearcats, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in an overtime victory over Valley View.
Cate Ford, a junior guard, is also expected to play a role along with sophomores Stella Parker and Jaci Hart.
Baltz said the Lady Bearcats should be able to cause matchup problems.
“I think we’ve got great speed compared to some of the teams I’ve had,” Baltz said. “Gracie and Carleigh, if they’re not 6-foot, they’re 5-11 and 3/4, truly. Both of them, for being tall girls, are strong and real athletic, so that’s allowed us to do some different stuff matchup-wise defensively.
“Gracie at this point is projected to be my point guard at 6-foot tall. She has kind of a unique skill set. Harding has offered her a full ride and a couple other schools were talking to her before she was hurt, and they’re still on her now.”
With the lack of summer competition, Baltz said he doesn’t know a lot about other teams in the 4A-3 conference. Batesville has moved up to Class 5A after reaching the 4A state semifinals last season, replaced by Trumann.
Blytheville, Highland, Pocahontas, Southside and Valley View and Westside remain in the conference. Southside and Batesville tied atop the conference last season.
With his team’s experience and depth, Baltz said the Lady Bearcats can be in the mix near the top of the league.
“I feel like I have a lot coming back to build around and then I’ve got some young talent coming up from the junior high team that I’m excited about,” he said. “All in all, I feel like we have an opportunity to compete to win our conference as long as we can stay healthy and play the way I expect.”