O'FALLON — Those inexperienced juniors that took some lumps last season for the O'Fallon Panthers now are senior veterans.
The Panthers have six seniors, including Jasmine Bonds, back from a squad that posted a 7-17 record last season. They took Collinsville to overtime in the first round of the regional before falling 61-57.
"We're definitely more experienced this year," O'Fallon coach Ryan Massey said. "We're returning six juniors who are now seniors, and they all figure to play significant minutes. We could have an all-senior starting lineup. I don't know that for sure, but that's a possibility. We have a senior heavy team with an entire year of experience under their belt."
The Panthers open the 2013-14 season with a three-team shootout on Saturday. They'll play Chatham Glenwood at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Quincy at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"We're going to be starting a Thanksgiving tournament next year," Massey said. "We have an open date, so we found two teams that wanted to come down. It's a one-year deal, a little shootout, and it's going to be some good competition. It should be two early tests to kind of see where we are at."
The 5-foot-7 Bonds will play a combo guard, serving as both a point guard and a shooting guard.
Bonds, who averaged a team-leading 15.3 points per game last season, can score from the outside or drive to the basket. She got to the free-throw line a team-high 124 times last season, making 94 or 76 percent of those attempts.
"She's going to have the ball in her hands a whole lot," Massey said. "Our primary offense will be our primary fast break with Jasmine out in front and our shooters and wings running the floor. She has worked hard on distributing the basketball. We all saw her finish at the rim last year, getting layups in transition, but this year she's also staying under control and getting to the point to make the proper pass.''
Seniors Blair Butler and Jourdan Phillips are the shooting guards. Butler averaged 8.6 points per game last season, while Phillips averaged four points per game.
"One of their key contributions to the team is their ability to knock down the 3," Massey said. "They're good free-throw shooters as well."
Three-year starter Ciara Jones also returns at guard. She averaged 6.4 points per game last season.
"Ciara has really taken on a leadership role just from the fact that she has probably played more varsity minutes than anyone in our program," Massey said. "She is a tremendous track athlete as well. She has made it to the state the last two or three years in the triple jump. She has taken on a verbal and by example leadership role for us. She is going to be relied on heavily on both ends of the floor. She's extended her range. She shoots the 3 well, but she also does well driving to the basket and she's very good in transition."
Senior Ally Warrren, who averaged 5.6 points per game last season, is another guard who can play small forward.
Sophomore guard Becca Althoff, who sustained a high ankle sprain that required a cast in volleyball, will contribute when she returns from the injury around Christmas.
One thing the Panthers lack is height. Maddy Ryan, who stands 5-foot-10, will play in the post.
Susie Hubbard, a 6-foot junior, also could see some time in the post.
"I think one of the keys for our program is whether we can defend and rebound," Massey said. "I know that is kind of cliche, but if we can defend and rebound, we can win a lot of games. We proved that we could put a lot of points on the board last year, but there were times where we'd score 60 points and lose, and that shouldn't happen in girls high school basketball. We're going to have to be better on the defensive end this year. We've really been concentrating on our defense."
The Panthers can overcome their size issues on offense is by attacking the basket. They shot 66 percent from the free-throw line as a team last season.
"We are a guard-oriented team," Massey said. "We're not going to be somebody who just pounds the ball inside, although with our quickness and athleticism, we do end up getting a lot of layups. They're just not with our back to basket."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.