The O’Fallon Panthers girls basketball team will be without senior Celest Akoro for at least part of the season, coach Ryan Massey said.
Akoro suffered an undisclosed injury that will keep her out for an undetermined amount of time.
Akoro averaged just under 7 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game a year ago and was a force on the defensive end of the court. She averaged 4.6 blocked shots per game and her 114 blocks ranked her second in the St. Louis area.
“Anytime you lose someone who has been in your program for three years and is the caliber of player who has the ability to alter and block shots with her long reach, it challenges your depth,” Massey said.
“We still have a lot of depth at the guard spot, but now with Celeste out, we will have to probably go a little smaller.”
O’Fallon, which opens its season on Saturday in its own O’Fallon Tip-Off Classic against Chatham-Glenwood, has plenty of talent returning from a team that finished 16-12 a year ago.
O’Fallon has six seniors, including guard Marta Durk and post player Devine Lane, back to pace the attack.
Durk, who led the O’Fallon offense for the second-straight season last year with an average of 12.9 points per game, will need to be one of the Panthers’ emotional leaders.
“Marta dedicated herself to becoming a better basketball player over the summer and she was very good before,” Massey said. “She really worked on her shot—by shooting 300 times a day—and her range has improved. ... I think she’ll have another big season for us.”
Lane, who transferred from Althoff as a sophomore, will be asked to help fill the void left by Akoro’s injury. Lane saw action in 23 of the Panthers 28 games last season and averaged just more than 3 points per game.
Swing players Jayla Stubblefield and Taje Ruffin also return for the Panthers. Stubblefield, a 5-foot-6 guard, has the athletic ability and quickness to play small forward if need be, while Ruffin is an inside-outside threat.
The 5-7 Ruffin averaged only 3 points per game while Stubblefield, a starter a year ago, averaged 8 points per game.
Guard Tamia Cash returns to run the point. Durk is also expected to spend some time at point guard this season. Other returning guards who saw at least some time on the court last season are Eboni Acoff and Courtney Keller.
Helping Lane in the post will be 5-10 McKenzie Chamberlain, who will also play center. Massey is also high on junior forwards Taylor VanAusdall, Courtney Butler and Caitlin Kayser.