Editor's Note: Due to technical difficulties, part of this story was missing in Sunday's edition of The Ada Evening News. Following in the Ada High School girls basketball preview in its entirety:

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ADA — The graduation of all-state guard Molly Maloy last spring left second-year Ada girls basketball coach Michelle Shannon with a huge hole to fill. Luckily, Shannon has a lot of players who know how to handle a shovel.

Despite the loss of Maloy (who averaged over 15 points per game and was the Lady Cougars’ top 3-point shooter over the past two seasons), Shannon appears to have a much deeper squad heading into Tuesday’s season opener at Lawton MacArthur than she had a year ago. She said last week that newfound depth should help her squad — a mix of four returning starters and some exciting younger players — make believers of some so-called experts she said might have underestimated the Lady Cougars.

“When I looked at the (preseason) rankings, I was kind of shocked,” said Shannon, whose club will open the season at No. 12 in Class 5A in the new coaches OK Rankings (which will decide playoff seedings) but No. 17 by CoachesAid. “We beat Ardmore (No. 14) twice last year, and we split with Durant (No. 10 in the coaches poll and No. 8 on CoachesAid) and beat them this summer at our camp.

“It doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish,” she added. “Hopefully, we can prove to them that we deserved to be ranked higher. We’ve looked pretty good in our scrimmages. I’m ready to get started and find out where we are.”

After Tuesday’s opener, the Lady Cougars will join the Ada boys squad at the Elgin Basketball Festival Friday and Saturday. The Ada girls will face Elk City at 4 p.m. Friday to open the festival, and the Ada girls and boys will face Elgin at 5:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday in the final two games of the weekend.

Shannon, whose first Ada club finished 10-11 and made an early playoff exit, returns the high-scoring duo of senior center Lauren Whitworth and junior guard Taylor Howard, and versatile seniors Jenni Bolin and Rachel Stinchcomb are also back after starting for a full season in 2006-2007 for the first time in their varsity careers.

Junior Katelyn Carter will start the season in Maloy’s old spot, and Shannon said she should also get a lot of production out a bench that includes junior Shelbey Franz, sophomore Catie Newport and promising freshman Erin Walling.

“We only played six kids most of last year,” Shannon said. “This year, I can consistently play eight, and every one of them can come and bring something to the table. I’m really excited about that.”

Whitworth, who had a string of huge games as a sophomore than wasn’t used much late in Ada’s run to the 2006 state tournament under longtime coach Jeff Maloy, was the focus of Shannon’s offense last season, averaging 15 points and six rebounds per game to lead all area post players. Shannon said continued production from her 5-10 center is obviously a key to Ada’s success this season.

“Lauren has to score, and she did that consistently last year,” Shannon said. “She was probably the leading scorer in three-quarters of our games, and I’m expecting that again this year.

“She’s really worked hard,” Shannon added. “She’s one of those kids we HAVE to have on the floor.”

Howard, who is also one of the state’s best high school golfers, had a breakout sophomore season, averaging 10 points and four rebounds, but she lacked the consistency last season Shannon is hoping to see from her as a junior.

“Taylor is going to give us a spark on offense,” Shannon predicted. “I’m looking for consistency from her and from all of my guards this year. They’re not going to shoot the ball well every night, but I’m hoping they can give me something every night.

“There was a lot of pressure on Taylor last year, but this year, I have some other kids who can step up and relieve that pressure,” she added. “All of the kids I bring off the bench can shoot the ball from outside.”

Stinchcomb averaged four points and three rebounds last season in her first year as a starter, and Shannon said her senior forward’s work ethic could lead to more offense.

“Rachel is the hardest worker on our whole team,” Shannon said. “She will go rebound and she really does well on the offensive boards. She will get a lot of points from that.”

Bolin started at the point for Ada in 2006-2007 and will open the season at that position. Shannon said, however, that the Lady Cougars’ added depth should allow the 5-9 Bolin — one of the team’s most physical players — to move inside at times.

“She will also sub in at the post,” Shannon said. “She’s my best passer, and she’s an extremely strong kid. She was looking to score more in preseason, and I’m hoping that carries over into our season.

“She’s turning into what we need at that point guard position, but when I bring Shelbey (Franz) in, she can also play the post.”

Carter saw her playing time increase late in the 2006-2007 campaign, and she did well when given an opportunity. That limited success earned her a starting job, and Shannon said she expects her only new opening-day starter to contribute right away.

“She really dedicated herself all summer, but all of my kids did that, and I think it’s going to show,” Shannon said. “She’s really improved offensively.”

Newport also performed well in a limited role last season, and the 5-10 sophomore is expected to be a solid back-up for Whitworth this season and is the heir apparent for Ada in the post next year.

“She’s got some speed,” Shannon said of Newport. “She can score, she can rebound, and she’s improved defensively, so I see good things for her.

“I don’t have a lot of size,” she said. “Lauren has to be on the floor, but last year there were a couple of games where she got into foul trouble and I wasn’t strong at that position backing her up. Last year Katie was a freshman and wasn’t able to carry that load, but I think she’s ready this year.”

Franz, one of the team’s best outside shooters, has the most experience of Shannon’s bench players heading into the season, and the second-year coach said the junior guard gives her another option in the starting lineup or could provide instant offense off the bench.

“Shelbey’s biggest strength is shooting the basketball,” Shannon said. “She’s going to get a lot of playing time. Even though she’s not starting right now, that doesn’t mean she won’t start some games. Our starting lineup isn’t set in stone. It could change depending on who we’re playing.”

Walling, who has averaged over 20 points per game for the Ada freshman girls squad, is the most highly touted first-year player to come into the Lady Cougar program since Molly Maloy in 2003-2004, and Shannon said Walling should see a lot of playing time right away.

“She’s the post player for our freshman team, but she’s going to be more of a perimeter player for the varsity,” Shannon said of Walling. “She’s got a great attitude, and she fits in well with these high school kids.

“I’m really excited about her,” Shannon added. “She’s a good shooter, and she can handle the basketball. She shouldn’t feel as much pressure as she does with the ninth grade team because she has more help.”

And, as excited as she is about her added depth and overall talent this season, Shannon said she is expecting her second team to also be tougher — both mentally and physically — than her first.

“I have great kids and they’re nice kids, but when they get on the floor I want them to compete,” she said. “You have to want to win and play as hard as you can play. Hopefully we’ll win a lot of games by being hard-nosed.

“My kids are never going to step on the floor and be scared, she added. “If you’re tougher than the other team, you have a chance to win every game you play. I know these girls are never going to quit. They’re going to get in there and fight every night.”

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