SEASON PREVIEW: MERCER
Last year, Gary Sansom returned somewhat unexpectedly to coach the Mercer Lady M's basketball team after nearly a decade away from the game, and although the assimilation process may have added a few games to the loss column, they may make up for them quickly this year.
Sansom admitted the transition took its toll on him and the team last year, but that comfort and experience will be the rewards reaped from the season in which the Lady M's nonetheless rattled off a surprising 15-10 record, carrying just a single senior and earning a spot in the District 10 playoffs.
Even though the loss of that lone senior, Amber Whenry, may hurt Mercer's inside game, Sansom believes his young group can compete immediately this season.
"I know their names now," he joked. "I don't just point and say, 'Hey you.' We played some together this summer. It's a matter of communication. They now know what I'm looking for, and I know better what to expect from them."
Leading the charge for five talented returning senior players is Valarie White (5-8 guard/forward), who at the end of last season erupted for 22 points in Mercer's decisive win over the Reynolds Raiderettes in an MCAC Class AA regular season tiebreaker that sent the Lady M's to the District 10 AA postseason. White led the team for the season with 294 points.
Also from the senior class are Susan Ellis (5-5 guard), Sarah Bolyard (5-6 forward) and Courtney Shepherd (5-8 forward), all of whom were either starters or regulars on the floor for Sansom last year.
But the potential centerpiece in Sansom's lineup is newcoming senior Abby Moose, a Mercer native who enjoyed three outstanding scholastic campaigns at Portersville Christian before opting to transfer this season. Moose, a 5-6 guard, could add the last piece in the puzzle for the Lady M's to make a return to trip to the playoffs.
Bringing in some momentum from last year's playoff trek is returning sophomore Shelah Bolyard, who was the biggest surprise for the M's last season. The freshman became an immediate fixture for the M's, draining an incredible 240 points. Fellow sophomore Barbie Palmer (5-3 guard) also saw valuable varsity minutes, and classmates Sarah Johnson (5-4), Amanda Kline (5-6) and Lee Ann Humes (5-2) will also look for playing time.
Candice Anderson (5-7 forward) leads a potent and abundant junior regiment, coming off a 217-point season. Joining her from the 11th grade ranks are Shelley Struthers (5-8 forward), Callie Creasy (5-7 guard), Autumn Whenry (5-4 guard) and 5-9 forward Jessica Speer.
According to Sansom, the brief trip to the playoffs, where Mercer fell to a familiar foe in Lakeview, may have given his group a valuable advantage.
"That's the first time in a while that we played in the playoffs," Sansom said, adding that this year's Lady M's still have some work to do to compete again in the tough MCAC.
"Reynolds will be very, very good," he said. "I think we'll be like we were last year. Some nights I think we'll surprise some people, and some nights I think they'll surprise us. We should benefit from the experience. We only lose one senior, and she's replaced by Abby."
Another advantage, according to Sansom, is added quickness in his starting five. On the contrary, he said that with that speed the M's lose some of their rebounding prowess.
"Valarie was very good for us last year, but they all stepped up," Sansom said. "As the season progressed, they all improved. And when we got to districts we knew we weren't ready to play at that level. They probably proved to themselves what it takes to play at that level."
Fortunately for Sansom, the teams he feels are the deepest this season in the MCAC aren't divisional opponents.
"The league is really loaded this year," Sansom said, citing Kennedy, Sharon and Grove City as obvious front-runners. -- By Herald sports writer Nate Summers
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