December — 9, at Andale; 12, Campus; 16, at Maize; 19, at Hutchinson.
January — 2, at Newton; 6, Salina South; 8, 9 or 10, vs. TBA at Koch Arena; 13, Andover Central; 16, Salina Central; 22-24, at Dodge City tournament (B); 27, at Andover; 29-31, at Emporia tournament (G).
February — 3, Eisenhower; 6, at Campus; 10, Maize; 13, at Salina Central; 17, Hutchinson; 20, Newton; 27, at Salina South.
Coach: Brett Flory, fourth season, 52-15
Last season: 15-6
Keaton Steadman, 5-9, sr., G
Nyjee Wright, 5-10, so., G
James Conley, 6-2, sr., G
Josh Mark, 5-11, sr., G
Aaron Nicholson, 5-9, sr., G
Derby’s 15-win season came as a bit of a surprise considering the inexperience of the majority of the Panthers’ players. But last season has brought hope that Derby can return to the 6A semifinals for the second time in three seasons.
The Panthers will start with Conley, a four-year varsity player, who averaged 16.1 points and 3.2 assists.
“Without a doubt, Papi is the guy that people are going to look to naturally to be a leader of this team,” Flory said of Conley. “… Every team we play will be looking at him as a guy to focus in on.”
Conley’s length and quickness causes problems for opponents because of his ability to get to the rim, as well as rebounding and defense.
Derby is deep at guard with Conley, Steadman (10.4 points), Wright, Mark and Nicholson, a transfer from Northwest. Flory plans to use a four-guard lineup.
“Defensively we’re going to try to use the quickness and speed to our advantage and try to create some havoc with our full-court pressure like we did last year,” Flory said. “Offensively we’ll try to take advantage of our mismatches by spreading the court.”
Inside, Derby will count on Trevor Hall, a 6-foot-5 junior, and Dequan Love, who will be eligible in January after transferring from Southeast.
Rebounding will be an emphasis.
“When you’re as small as we’re going to be, rebounding the ball is an area of concern,” Flory said. “If we can break even or even be on the plus side of the rebounding margin, we’ll probably be a tough team to beat.”
Coach: Jodie Karsak, second season, 7-14
Last season: 7-14
Grace Mitchell, 6-2, jr., G-F
Tara Greiving, 5-8, sr., F
Kenzie Young, 5-4, jr., G
Katie Hartman, 5-3, jr., G
When Karsak decides to put Hartman and Young into the basketball game, she says, “All right, dogs. Are you ready?” The duo’s nickname is bulldogs because when they step on the court, they bring energy, intensity and quickness.
“They want the steal and the layup,” Karsak said.
Combine the pressure that Hartman and Young can bring, along with the play inside of Greiving and Mitchell, and there’s no doubt that Derby is counting on an improved season.
“We are definitely going to compete,” Karsak said. “I have no doubt that we have the toughness to compete with anybody.”
Greiving, despite being six inches shorter than Mitchell, will be counted on to do the dirty work inside. One of two seniors, she knows how to position her body in the post to defend bigger players, get rebounds and score.
As for Mitchell, who led Derby with 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, she has the versatility that belies her relative inexperience. She started playing basketball in seventh grade.
“What she does is she creates a really big mismatch,” Karsak said. “She’s 6-2, and she really is more of a guard than she is a post player. However, she can put her back to the basket and post up and play that position for us, as well.
“The offense that we run, she’ll play both inside and outside. She can shoot the ball lights out. I think she’ll make the defense extend out.”
Junior Haley Mills, a strong outside shooter, should return after the winter break after hyper-extending her knee.