CHARLESTON — The Charleston girls' basketball program has been consistent under coach Jeff Miller, who begins his 11th year as the Lady Trojans head coach. In his first three seasons, Charleston won 20 or more games. Over the past three seasons, the Lady Trojans have won 20 or more games and are coming off a 20-7 season.
Even though Charleston graduated some key seniors, there's a new addition, progress from the returning players and a freshman or two that could make an impact. So Miller thinks his team can once again come away with a 20-win season.
"We had a really good summer. We played some of the best competition we've played in my 11 years here this summer," Miller said. "The girls work ethic is second to none. They push each other, whether it's in the weight room or on the floor. We have some gym rats. It makes my job a lot easier."
However, he does want more. Out of his six seasons with 20 or more wins, the Lady Trojans have won one region title - in 2014-15 - so he wants to see the team make a bit of a deeper run in the postseason and he feels the team this season can accomplish that.
"That's always the goal, that magic 20-win season, that's a big thing," Miller said. "My priority, we have to start winning regionals around here. I have no idea where the IHSA will put people this year, but that's one of my goals, to win the regional and advance to the sectional."
Charleston will see plenty of quality competition before the Class 3A regionals even roll round. The Apollo Conference alone has Effingham along with new additions Lincoln and Mahomet-Seymour. Charleston could be in the mix for an Apollo title as well, but Miller thinks Effingham is the favorite to win the conference title.
"It's no secret, Effingham is picked to win the Apollo. Lincoln, we saw them this summer and they have an outstanding All-State player and are very good and disciplined and do a lot of what the boys do," Miller said. "Mahomet, they are always solid. They are going to be somebody you can't look past. I have to believe it will be as competitive as it was last year."
Charleston averaged 62.2 points per game and likes to get out and run, which is attributed to the defense. Charleston averaged 12.3 steals per game, which allows the Lady Trojans to get out in transition. Miller doesn't see that changing this year, but he does need some players to step up and grab some rebounds.
"A lot of the points are attribute to the defense. We are looking to add on to that this year," Miller said. "I think we are probably quicker than we were than last year. We don't do a very good job of rebound and haven't in the past. Last year I thought we did much better even though our point guard led us, but it was all-across the board."
The Trojans did lose Aislinn Parish, who is now at Lake Land College, and Ally O'Dell, who will play softball at Olney Central College, to graduation, but there's still plenty of talent returning.
Senior guard Paige Swango led the Trojans with 18 points per game last season. She made 74 3-pointers and shot 39 percent from behind the arc. She also had 1.8 steals per game.
"Paige is one of the premier shooters around here," Miller said. "In the weight room, she's throwing up big weights. She's a college player. She's going to get a scholarship and someone is going to be very fortunate to have that young lady."
Senior guard Hope Griffin averaged 8.8 points per game along with 3.2 assists and 3.0 steals. Senior forward Kaitlyn Coffey averaged 7.1 points per game and 4.5 rebounds. Junior Bernie Jackson averaged 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
"Hope, defensively, she is one of the best on-ball defenders in this area. She's quick as lightning and she is shooting the ball better off the dribble now. I look for some big numbers out of Hope this year," Miller said. "Kaitlyn isn't afraid of contact and she likes to mix it up. Bernie, she's a very physical player and she will mix it up. She led our team in charges last year. She plays hard and her perimeter shot has picked up. She will surprise people. When you have that stretch forward who brings people out, that will help us because we like to get to the rim."
Junior Elizabeth Buescher will move into a starting role for the Lady Trojans this season after playing in 19 games last season.
"She has really come on strong and I am really pleased with her progress and she's tougher than she was as a sophomore," Miller said. "We preach that mental toughness. We want to be that team that gets charges and get those 50/50 balls. She does that and is a leader in that respect."
Shae Littleford leads a talented freshman class. The Charleston eighth grade squad won the state title last season and now they make the move up to the high school ranks.
"This is an outstanding freshman class coming in. Shae is my starting point guard right now," Miller said. "They are solid all the way down. Shae is quick, gets to the rim well and she is knocking them down at the perimeter."
Charleston did get a transfer with junior Regan Bollant, who was at Judah Christian last season. Miller expects Bollant to make an instant impact.
"She's maybe the tallest person on our team and I think she hit 67 three's and she can shoot the ball," Miller said. "On paper, it looks like we can shoot the ball okay. I am optimistic that we will be competitive and I would like to think that we can compete for a regional."