Richard Stroud

Grove Sun

JAY - Normally, when a team loses an All-State player who led the team in scoring and steals, that team would be expected to have lowered expectations.

That’s not the case with head coach Terry Sweeney and the Jay Lady Bulldogs.

Despite losing Hannah Ritter and her 18 points per game to graduation, Sweeney’s squad is eyeing a trip to the state tournament in Oklahoma City come March.

“I feel really good about this team,” Sweeney said. “Our goal is as high as you can get. These girls have been playing for me for four years now. They’re ready to get to that state tournament.”

A team that went 14-12 last season returns four starters and will feature six seniors in a nine-player rotation. But one of the players who will be expected to fill a lot of the void left by Ritter’s absence will be her younger sister Megan.

“She’s a different player,” Sweeney said when comparing the two. “Megan looks to dish it more. We’re going to look to get it in her hands at the end of quarters and at the end of games.”

Sweeney spent the summer evaluating his players at various camps and is encouraged by what he has seen.

“All of the girls have stepped their games up as a group. We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of good players.”

Among those who will be counted on will be senior forward Talisa Budder, who was second on the team in 2009-10 with six rebounds per game.

“She’s a difference maker,” Sweeney said. “She can make havoc for the other team’s offense. She can run and jump and rebound on both ends.”

Another player who will play a prominent role will be senior guard Lauren Wilson, who is coming off an ACL tear suffered during the season-ending loss to Wagoner in the Area consolation semifinals. Wilson will also be making the transition from point guard, where she has played the past two seasons, to shooting guard. Wilson was second on the team last season with 8.4 points per game.

“She’s our best pure shooter,” Sweeney said.

But the player Sweeney describes as “key” will be post player Carrie Kirby. Kirby averaged 5.7 points per game last season and led the team with 7.6 rebounds per contest.

“She’s key for us,” Sweeney said. “She’s an undersized (5’6”) post. She’s going to have to finish around the basket and shoot free throws. The better she does that, the better we’ll be. She won’t back down from anyone.”

Junior guard Laura Whiteley, who came off the bench in the role of sixth man last season, moves into the starting lineup for 2010-11.

“She’s a great passer. If you’re open, you better be watching, because she’ll send the ball your way.”

Salesah Myers and Megan Edge are two junior guards who will provide the Lady Bulldogs with outside shooting off the bench.

But the main weakness for the undersized Lady Bulldogs will be on the boards. This was evident during Jay’s season-opening loss at Kansas, in which the Lady Comets turned a 21-16 halftime deficit into a 50-36 win largely on the strength of their offensive rebounding.

“We’ve definitely got to block out and double the post,” Sweeney said.

The Lady Bulldogs will face plenty of challenges in both conference play and in the postseason. One of those challenges will be the Vinita Lady Hornets, the defending state champions in 4A and the defending champion in the Verdigris Valley Conference. The Lady Bulldogs will meet Vinita for the first time this season tonight and will travel to Vinita on Jan 8.

“If you want to win conference, you have to go through Vinita," Sweeney said.