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Veterans on, off court winning combo for Lady Cats

Thursday, December 14, 2006

You might think that after coaching one sport (girls' basketball) at one school (Thayer High School) since 1984, that Steve Atkisson would dread the dawn of yet another winter of long afternoon practices, coupled with even longer evening road trips.

But if you think like that, you would be wrong.

"I'm really excited about this year. I can't wait to get the games started," Atkisson said. "I love coming into a season like this because I think people may be looking past us some. I love being the darkhorse. I think the kids are really up for the challenge, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things work out."

And if the past holds any indication how things might work out for the new season, Lady Cat fans should have plenty to cheer about. Entering his 24th season at Thayer, Atkisson is in the ranks of the top 20 winningest girls' basketball coaches in the state of Missouri, with 379 wins to his credit.

There's nothing quite like a successful summer to refresh even the most veteran leader, recharging the batteries and casting the bright light of possibilities onto these cold winter nights.

"We went to two summer camps and won our division in both camps," Atkisson said. "That was a very pleasant surprise to me. We just got in there and used some good, old-fashioned hard work. We really had one of the best summers we've ever had."

This despite the loss of three seniors off last year's squad, three seniors who helped the Lady Bobcats to a 21-6 record and berth in the District 9 Tournament semi-final round. Thayer came up a bit short in pursuit of a district title, falling to Norwood 50-37.

However, the Lady Cats' losses didn't end with the graduations of LaShanda Horton, Brittany Allen and Heather Coffel.

"Unfortunately, we lost Autumn Forschler to a torn ACL," Atkisson said. "She went on a school skiing trip to Colorado and got hurt, so it looks like we'll be without her."

Forschler and April Risner are the only seniors on this year's edition of Lady Bobcats.

Although they may not be knee-deep in upperclassmen, the Lady Cats are stocked with plenty of returning players who saw action last season.

"We have two returning starters back, Micah Stevens and Krysta Adams," Atkisson said. "Two of our ball-handlers from last year."

Stevens, a sophomore point guard, hit for a little over 14 points a game as a freshman, while logging three steals and handing out three assists an outing last year.

Adams, a junior, provided Thayer with a dose of outside firepower, leading the Lady Bobcats in 3-point shooting at a 31-percent clip during her sophomore campaign.

"We're also looking for good things from Chelsey Cabrales (junior)," Atkisson said. "She got quite a bit of playing time last year and gave us quickness off the bench."

Hope Hunt, a junior who played on the JV squad last year, should see considerable action at the varsity level this time around.

"She worked real hard during last spring and over the summer. She's going to be a player," said Atkisson. "Kristen Earls (sophomore) also played on the JV team last year, and we'll look for her to see some time at small forward this year."

As was the case last year when some freshmen saw time on the court for the varsity squad, a couple of ninth-graders figure to get their feet wet this season for the Lady Cats.

"Kaley Herbert and Samantha Oakes might see a little playing time this year," said Atkisson. "They both have spent a lot of time in the gym over the summer, so we'll just have to wait and see how things unfold."

Last season Thayer looked to get up and down the court and push the issue on offense and defense. This year fans should see more of the same, maybe even taken one notch further, according to Atkisson.

"I think we might be a little quicker, overall," he said. "I thought we played pretty much up-tempo last year, but I think we'll be even more so this year. We'll rely a lot on our quickness, try to beat people off our press and score off our defense."

This reliance on quickness may be as much a necessity as it is a desire, since the absence of Coffel leaves the Lady Bobcats a bit thin in the paint.

"We're going to miss Heather. She was a very good rebounder, a very strong physical presence inside for us," said Atkisson. "We're going to miss that. We'll just have to see who can fill those shoes. I think Risner and Hunt do have the ability."

And while they have some been-there, done-that kind of players, the Lady Bobcats' youth might still be a bit of an issue, at least early in the year.

"Obviously, how quick our young kids can mature will be important for us," said Atkisson. "And the ability for us to use our depth and quickness, how we can score off our defense, will definitely be a key for us."



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