The Belleville East Lancers season is less than a week old and they have played only two games, but coach Amanda Kemezys has already seen that her 2018-19 team can overcome obstacles both on and off the basketball court.
Just hours after dropping a 27-point decision to defending Class 3A state champion Peoria Richwoods on Saturday, the Lancers rallied in the final 30 seconds to edge Chatham-Glenwood 47-46 at the Southern Illinois Shootout.
“Against Chatham-Glenwood, we thought we could extend and have a little bigger of a lead because of our size. But they kept draining 3-point shots and we had too many turnovers,” Kemezys said. “To be able to come back and have a finish at the beginning of the year like that, it showed me a lot of good stuff. In a season-opening tournament its always good to see what we need to focus on.”
Led by senior forward-center B’Aunce Carter and senior guard Bryce Dowell, the Lancers (1-2) will continue play at the Southern Illinois Shootout on Saturday when they take on defending Class 1A state champion Danville Schlarman at Edwardsville High School beginning at 4 p.m.
While Edwardsville, O’Fallon and East St. Louis look to be the Lancers major obstacles on the court, the loss of three-year starting point guard Kaylah Rainey for the season is a blow to the Lancers both and off the court.
A Northwestern University basketball recruit, Rainey was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition late last month and will undergo open heart surgery next week at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.. The 5-6 Rainey is out for the season but is expected to start working out in March and will be ready to start her college career next summer.
“Kaylah didn’t play with us this summer because of injuries to her PCL and wrist, so it provided a little preparation for our guards at least,’’ Kemezys said. “As far as our x’s and o’s, that’s a huge piece that we lost. Kaylah was our floor leader.
”We’re probably going to go by committee to pick up the slack with our guards. It’s a huge loss, but it’’s only going to make our other kids better. They’re going to have to step up, play more and pick up the slack.’’
The 5-7 Dowell, who scored 27 points in the loss to Richwoods and 5-7 senior Nyah Ford along with 5-7 Bria James and 5-6 sophomore Grace Riley have all and will see playing time at the point guard spot.
Dowell, a streak-shooting perimeter scorer has been on target in the first two games, making 14 of-16 shots from the floor and averaging 19.5 points per game.
“Bryce can score points in a hurry when she gets on streak. The other day against Richwoods I think she hit three 3’s in about a four minute span. There is no question we’re counting on her to carry a large part of the offensive load,’’ Kemezys said. “She gives us a nice combination with B’Aunce Carter inside.
“As for the point guard spot, I don’t know if we will go with one or stay with a committee of guards. Some of those players can play the shooting guard spots as well.’’
Senior co-captain Jaila Parker (5-9) has picked up the role as a leader and is a solid player on both ends of the floor while 6-2 junior Hannah Mitchell is back after sitting out all of last season with a knee injury.
“Jaila is one of those players who does a lot of the little things a team needs in order to be successful. The things that don’t always show up in the box score . And she’s really taken ownership as one of our leaders,’’ Kemezys said. “Hannah (Mitchell) missed all of last year but she has good skills. It may take her a while to play like we know she can.’’
While Dowell is the offensive leader in the backcourt, Carter, a first team all-area selection last season is one of the best players in the St. Louis area.
After transferring from Belleville West before the start of the 2017-18 school year, the 5-11 Carter averaed 13.2 points, shot better than 57 percent from the field and pulled down nearly eight rebounds per game in her first season as a Lancer.
“B’Aunce came in last year and just had a tremendous season. I know she’s looking to build upon that and we need her to do that,’’ Kemezys aid. “It’s been a change because we’ve always been so guard oriented. But our guards have done a great job of trying to get her the basketball.
“But B’Aunce does a great job of not forcing. She’ll give the balll up. But she is so strong and does such a great job of finishinng that we want to get her the ball as much as possible.’’
Providing strength off the bench will be Tyler Butler. Amiya Cole and Raya James.