Juniors Ebony Bunton,left, Jasmine McDonald, center, and Janea Eshleman listens to Coach Miles Watters Thursday afternoon during practice in the Rock Staubus gym. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
After losing only three games over the past two seasons, the Clovis High girls basketball team is in a rebuilding mode.
Sixth-year coach Miles Watters said the Lady Wildcats have the potential to do well, though, particularly in a year where a lot of Class 5A teams may be in the same boat.
“We feel like there’s a lot of potential here,” said Watters, whose team opens the season on Tuesday at Moriarty. “If we continue to improve, I think we can make a run for it at the end of the year.”
The Lady Cats went 27-3 a year ago after finishing 30-0 the previous season and beating Mayfield for the 5A title in a battle of unbeatens.
This year, they are replacing five players lost to graduation, including three of the top 10 scorers in the program’s history in Brittany Blackmon, Aimee Hilburn and Tori Quintana.
Ebony Bunton, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, and Tori Northcutt, a 5-6 senior guard, return to the starting lineup. The top reserve coming back is 6-foot junior post Jasmine McDonald.
“They’re all going from complementary roles to go-to persons,” Watters said. “We’re going to have to do this by committee. It may be a different person who leads us in scoring every night.”
Northcutt said she’s ready to step up her role this year.
“We’re ready to play,” she said. “We think we can do really well this season. We try to work hard every day in practice.”
McDonald filled in last season when players such as Blackmon and Hilburn occasionally got into foul trouble. Her long reach gives her potential on defense and on the boards.
“We have to step up and play big,” McDonald said. “It’s probably going to take a while. We have to get used to playing with each other.”
She’ll likely start in the post and Watters is counting on her for big minutes.
“Jasmine has improved quite a bit,” he said. “She’s just got to be confident and aggressive.”
Bunton has the ability to go inside or out, and is the team’s best athlete. She played a key role in the Lady Cats’ state title two years ago, and will likely have to improve her scoring average into double figures.
Northcutt can shoot from the perimeter and she, too, will be asked to pick up some of the scoring slack.
“We’re excited,” Northcutt said. “Everybody’s excited to step into the roles they’ve been given this year.
“I think I have to be a leader for us, on and off the floor.”
Watters said Bunton and Northcutt will probably divide point guard duties.
“I’d like to keep the ball in their hands as much as possible, and run the offense through them,” he said.
Among candidates for wing positions are 5-7 sophomore Brittany Johnson, 5-5 sophomore Mariah Sena and 5-6 junior Janae Eshleman. “I feel like between Mariah, Janae and Brittany, we’ll have some pretty good quickness,” Watters said.
Others on the perimeter are seniors Britni Montague, Heather Malloy and Amanda Meyers and juniors Kayla Breedlove and Jennifer Vaca. Malloy is currently recovering from a torn ACL sustained during the summer, and Watters said he hopes she will be available by mid-December.
Gattis freshmen Katharine Cordova and Antiesha Brown could also help, Watters said, while 5-6 junior Kanisha Beachum may add some inside depth.
The Lady Cats’ schedule is challenging — they play six games away from home before their Rock Staubus debut Dec. 12 against Amarillo High.
“Our schedule is about as brutal as it’s ever been,” Watters acknowledged. “But I feel like it’s a four-month process. We’re not concerned about going undefeated.”
Watters said he thinks Hobbs enters the season as the District 4-5A favorite over the Lady Cats and Carlsbad.
“They were pretty impressive this summer when we played them,” he said of the Lady Eagles, “but I think we’ve got time to catch up to them.”