Nov. 10—The class of the Vermilion County girls basketball teams the past few years have been Salt Fork, but this year, the Storm will have challenges.
The challenges started when guard Alexa Jamison, who has already scored 1,000 points in her first two years, was ruled out of her junior year because of injury.
"We have a situation with some injuries that we will have to deal with and you hate the fact that we have injuries," Salt Fork Brian Russell said. "But now the next leader is going to have to step up and get that spot. Hopefully, we can get her back."
There could be a slight chance for a Jamison return late in the season, but Russell said it is not in his hands.
"We are going to follow whatever the doctors say. I don't know of a timeline per se, but we are hoping sometime this season," Russell said. "At this point in time, we are going to focus on getting better as a team. If she comes back, it is a big bonus for us. If not, we will have to deal with that as well."
With Jamison out, senior Macie Russell will be seen as a leader, but Brian Russell said it will be a team effort.
"What we talk about all the time is we are going to win as a team or lose as a team," Russell said. "The main thing we are going to focus on is playing as a team. Yes, she (Macie Russell) is a senior and she is going to be the leader that we need, but we have to do this as a team no matter what and what we can do as a collective group and work on our strengths and work on our weaknesses."
Another team looking going with a new leader is Oakwood. The Comets lost a 1,000-point scorer in Addie Wright from last season, but senior point guard Jaydah Arrowsmith is coming off a strong finish last season.
"Jaydah has always been a leader for us. She is the point guard, so she is a leader in general," Oakwood coach Stephanie Marsh said. "She started to improve by the end of last year and with Addie gone and her being a senior, she has stepped in and guided the rest of the team."
After Arrowsmith, the Comets does have experienced players and newcomers to pick up for Wright.
"We have Nikita Taylor back this year after she suffered an injury in the county tournament," Marsh said. "Bella Bradford is a junior, but we are waiting on a MRI for her for an injury she had during volleyball season. Riley Wright is coming back as a junior and Mattie Nicoson and Gracie Hanner are sophomores who had varsity minutes. We are adding a senior (Luci Morris) and a junior (Taylor Smoot) that has not played a game, but they are very talented."
Marsh said that just like Salt Fork, team chemistry is going to be the key for any success.
"We don't have a go-to player and we will have to work as a team and that could be good for us," Marsh said. "It is going to take time to get that team chemistry and wrinkle out the kinks. I know everyone is struggling with numbers and talent as well, so I think it will be a level playing field."
One of the biggest stories in the county last season was Georgetown-Ridge Farm. After some down years, the Buffaloes had a 16-12 overall record and was third in the Vermilion County Tournament.
"We've talked abut building on what happened last year," Geo-RF head coach Brad Russell said. "We started to talk about wanting to be better and build upon what we accomplished. It's nice to finally start to see success and it is wanting to We are trying to build a program that want to be sustainable and we don't want to drop off.
While Brad Russell lost two seniors for last season, he does retain a lot of the talent that brought in last year's success.
"We have a very good nucleus that is coming back and hopefully they are hungry and want to take us to the at next step," Brad Russell said. "Kendall Roberts, Sydney Spesard, Addi Spesard, Sierra and Savannah Cunningham are coming back. I have some sophomores that will be contributing more this year, you are looking at getting a good nucleus of kids that have been together for a while and they are trending in the right direction.
"I have a couple of other that are new and haven't played in a while, but I feel we can get a lot from them as well. It is great to see that hard work and the obstacles that we had to overcome and it is because of the nucleus."
Most teams are going to enter with major senior losses. Armstrong-Potomac will go in without top players Kyla Bullington and Cami Saltsgaver. Hoopeston Area will go without Bre Crose and Klaire Pilcher, Westville will be without Lydia Gondzur and Ariel Clarkston, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin will be without Natalie Clapp and Schlarman Academy will start over without Madi Watson.
While the competition in the county will be tough, competition in the Vermilion Valley Conference will be tough when teams like Cissna Park and Watseka are added to the mix. The Timberwolves and the Warriors each made sectional semifinal appearances last season.
"I think it is going to be stiff competition," Brian Russell said. "You have a team like Cissna Park, who had a strong group that played together and went to the sectional. You have Watseka, who is always putting together a good team and I think Georgetown has some girls that gained some experience. I think anyone can beat anyone and that is great for the conference."
I think our conference will be tough with Cissna Park, Watseka, and Iroquois West ... There are some really good teams in our conference," Brad Russell said. "When you take it down to county, I think it can be very competitive every night. Conference-wise, you have those northern teams that are going to be tough and I am not going to count Salt Fork out at all and I look for a season that is competitive in the VVC and county."
The season starts on Monday with BHRA playing Tri-Point at the Timberwolf Tip-Off while Oakwood will play Arcola and Westville will play Heritage. On Tuesday, Georgetown-Ridge Farm will play Urbana University, while Salt Fork will take on Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.
The Comet Classic will start on Nov. 18 with Westville and Hoopeston Area starting their seasons. Armstrong-Potomac will not start its season until Nov. 27 against Fisher.