When the Ada High basketball teams tip off Friday night against Tecumseh inside the Cougar Activity Center, coaches Michelle Shannon and Ron Anderson know this much — they’ll each have a special senior player to lean on when the going gets tough.
Returning for the Lady Cougars is senior Erin Walling, who averaged a team-high 15 points per game a year ago to go with nearly five rebounds per game. She also finished with 60 steals and hit 36 shots from beyond the arc.
Shannon said the best is yet to come from Walling.
“I expect Erin to continue to grow offensively and defensively this year,” she said. “I think that this will be her best season yet. She is stronger and a more mature athlete.”
On the boys’ side, Nick Anderson returns to the Cougars after averaging team highs of 14.4 points and seven rebounds per contest as a junior.
“Nick will again be expected to take an even larger roll this season as a senior. Not only will we expect him to improve from last year in scoring and rebounding, but we will expect him to take a larger roll as a senior leader,” Anderson said. “Most every team has a go-to player and he will be expected to be that player again this season. But every team we play will also know that, and he will have to show even more discipline while not forcing anything.”
Walling’s supporting cast will include five more seniors — Charlesey YoungWolfe, Kristina Gonzalez, Mechel Dickerson, Andie Jewett and Brooke Butler.
YoungWolfe was the only one of the group that was a full time starter alongside Walling. She brings an outside presence to the court and Shannon will count on her to improve from the 21 3-pointers she hit last year.
“I have those six seniors and they all bring something different to the team from a basketball perspective,” Shannon said. “But they all have one thing in common — they are all great kids.”
Nick Anderson’s supporting cast got a big boost from his teammates on Ada football team. In fact, only five Ada basketball players worked out in the gym until the Cougar gridiron season was finished.
“This has been certainly one of the most interesting preseasons I’ve had as a coach after having only five players in the gym,” Ron Anderson said. “The evaluation of players was limited and focused on individual workouts. When the cross country and football players made their way into the gym, it gave me more of an opportunity to evaluation this team.”
Still, Anderson has only had his full squad for less than 10 practices and two scrimmages.
“For the short time I have had everyone in the gym, I have been very pleased with their effort,” he said. “Once again lack of size will be a factor with the teams we play, but I think we have better athletes than what we have had the past two years. Leadership will again be a factor as it is with every team, but I have seen that improve greatly from years past.”
Shannon has been pleased with what she’s seen from preseason workouts.
“I feel that we got better with each and every scrimmage. That is all that a coach can hope for,” she said. “It has been amazing to watch some of our younger kids develop. You will see several new kids contribute this year.”
Paxton Kilby and Christian Johnson will be outsized in the paint on most nights for the Cougars, but Anderson said they have done a solid job heading into Friday’s opener.
“(Kilby and Johnson) will be asked to guard bigger and stronger players most every night. They have done an outstanding job thus far in practice, and I feel our presence at the post position will be better,” he said.
“We’ll lean on Nick, but at the same time other players on most every occasion will be required to step up when needed,” Anderson said. “We have several players this year that can make that adjustment. Our depth is nine to 10 deep, and I would have no hesitation playing anyone in our varsity lineup.”
Although Ada will play its usual Class 5A schedule, the basketball teams will compete in the Class 4A playoffs this year.
Shannon said her philosophy will remain the same, regardless of class.
“It doesn’t matter what class we are in. ... the goals are the same. We must WIN games. That is our goal, to win,” she said.
Anderson looks forward to seeing what kind of noise his team can make in the 4A playoffs.
“Playing 4A will have no bearing on our regular season. But once playoffs arrive, the teams we will play and the playoff format will certainly be to our advantage,” he said.
Shannon said she expects her team to surprise a few folks as the season progresses.
“Someone said to me the other day ‘I saw where you guys weren’t ranked.’ My response was ‘It doesn’t matter where you start it is where you finish.’ I think that the Ada Lady Cougars are going to sneak up on some people if we continue to develop like I think that we will.”