The 2011-12 Cannon County Lionettes include, seated, from left, Erin McReynolds, Kendra Maynord, Paulani Tarawa, Ariana Kailiponi, Kristen Hale, and Kaylee Hayes. Middle, from left, Abby Jakes, Emily Pemberton, Lindsey Reed, Michael Dodgen, head coach; Joanna Young, Ashley Basham, and Jordan Hollis. Back row, from left, Lydia Garrett, assistant coach; Macy Williams, Madison Simons, Abbey Sissom, Madison Walkup, Rebekah Faulkner, Macy Clements, Hannah Hughes, Taylor Warren, Molly Williams, and Darvin Gill, assistant coach.
Ingredients for a winning recipe have been on display during girls basketball practices at Cannon County for two weeks.
Weeks of practice, conditioning and summer team camps prepare teams for the start of the season and the time to put those elements to work is here as the Lionettes open the season with two road games this week.
Cannon County opens the 2011-12 season at Cumberland County Tuesday and travels to Marion County Friday. Tipoff for both games is 6 p.m.
"The season starts this week whether we are ready or not, so we need to be ready," said Lionettes Head Coach Michael Dodgen, who begins his eighth season leading the charge in Cannon County. "Practice has been hectic. Players are working hard every day and meeting the expectations in practice. The team right now is at the focus point of the preseason. I really like the focus of our team and how hard they work daily."
Cannon County will feature a new lineup and several new faces this season, but don't expect the Lionettes to take a step back. In fact, this team figures to contend for another District 8-AA championship and postseason run after winning back-to-back Region 4-AA championships, back-to-back home Sub-state appearances, and reaching the semifinals of the TSSAA Class AA State Tournament last year.
Despite losing four heralded players to graduation (Taylor King, Chelsey Payne, Lauren Ruehlen and Emily Sissom), the cupboard is not bare at Cannon County.
Sophomore Abbey Sissom and senior Lindsey Reed are starters who are back. Sissom enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign that saw her earn All-District, All-Region and All-State Tournament honors. Sissom was District 8-AA's Freshman of the Year and will be looked upon as a leader in 2011-12.
Reed suffered a midseason back injury that cost her playing time but she returned with a vengeance and helped key Cannon County's run. She is 100 percent heading into this season and is ready to continue the Lionettes' winning tradition.
"We have had a great offseason and things have gone well during the preseason practices," Reed said. "We have a tough, challenging schedule and we like that because it helps prepare us for our district, which is always tough, plus it helps get you ready for tournament play at the end."
In addition to Sissom and Reed, returning senior guard Joanna Young also figures prominently into the team's plans. Young is a projected starter who will create problems with her speed and quickness. She is a tenacious defensive presence.
While the three aforementioned players leave the backcourt in capable hands, depth on the wing is a concern. Junior Abby Jakes will sit out the 2011-12 season due to medical reasons. Jakes was one of the team's top reserves last season and figured to battle for a starting position this year.
Guards Jordan Hollis, Madison Walkup and Macy Clements have been impressive during the offseason and preseason practices and Dodgen likes their progress, as well as what they bring to the court.
"All of the returning players are working really hard at this point," Dodgen said. "Surprises at this point would be the emergence of (Clements, Hollis and Walkup). Abby Jakes will be out for medical reasons this season so one of the areas of improvement right now is developing solid depth at the wing positions."
Ashley Basham and Emily Pemberton will man the post in the early going but look for Paulani Tawara and Ariana Kailiponi, both freshmen, to work their way into the rotation.
In addition, Erin McReynolds also has been solid as a freshman guard and could see early playing time in spots as the season unfolds.
The Lionettes will play their home opener Monday (Nov. 21) against Coffee County, before playing host to the Mitch Wilson Classic, Nov. 25-26.