SULLIVAN — The last two years the Sullivan girls basketball team has reached the Sweet 16 in Class 2A before falling. Last year's team went 26-4 and won the Central Illinois Conference regular-season title.
"We are hoping to carry that experience and come out ready to play," said Sullivan coach and graduate Sheri McCain, who is in her ninth season. "We want to win the CIC and all of the tournaments that we are in. Mount Zion joined the Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond Knights Classic around Christmas so that is good. We will worry about that postseason when we get to that time."
Sullivan lost three players from last year, including Esther Miller, a member of the JG-TC All-Area team who averaged a team-high 14 points per game along with 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 steals for the best season since the Lady Redskins went 31-2 in 1993-94.
Returning is second-team all-CIC player Emily White, a 5-11 junior who averaged 11.9 points, which is tops among the returning players. Sophomore Lily Null and 5-10 senior Avery Still earned honorable mention status, averaging 7.9 and 9 points, respectively.
Senior Kirsten O'Neill and juniors Jerra Goad and 5-10 Taylor Orris are the other returning letter winners.
"We have got speed and some strength and length on us," said McCain. "We are not 6-0 across the board, but we have some height in there. We are very versatile. Still is a post player, but she can bring the ball up the floor. Null is going to be a force for us this year. She plays ball all year round and is tough. We have a couple of good freshmen including Alaina Moore. She played really well over the summer and is a good passer."
A total of 14 players are in the program, including two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen.
"We have been working on getting the ball down the floor quickly," said McCain. "The girls want to push the ball up and down the floor. I don't know what type of defense we will see, but I know many teams play man-to-man. With our ability to score around the rim we should be able to handle man-to-man. Plus we can shoot from the outside also. We need to look for each other and make good passes."
McCain, whose team lost to Teutopolis 56-31 in the Tuscola Sectional championship, had a 17-game winning streak during the season. The Lady Redskins averaged 55.9 points per game and allowed just 33.8.
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"For the most part we want to play good man-to-man defense," said McCain. "We played some zone so I am not saying that is not possible, but we want to make sure we play solid man-to-man and then maybe add some different defense. We are always working on moving our feet and staying out of foul trouble."
McCain described her team as determined and hungry.
"They want to get out on the basketball court and have been looking forward to playing basketball. We had a pretty tough schedule over the summer playing some Class 3A and 4A teams. I always tell them: It doesn't matter what your record is in the summer as long as you are playing good teams and getting better."
McCain said Still is the main leader on the floor.
"She does a great job on the floor leading the team," said McCain, who is assisted by Tiffinie French and Kali Taylor, both Sullivan grads. "Null leads more by example and White is another leader on the floor. Those three are the core leaders."
Sullivan opens play Monday in the Maroa-Forsyth round robin against the host school.
"They are a great group of girls and fun to coach," said McCain. "They are all working hard. After the first couple of games, we will figure out what we need to work on next. Right now we are concentrating on offense and getting into basketball shape and then we will be able to start pressing."
With 14 players McCain plans to play everyone some.
"That is a good thing about not having a big team," said McCain. "These girls will play a lot of basketball this year. We don't have a lot of girls sitting on the bench. A lot of girls will play both junior varsity and varsity. The experience will make them better."