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Prep Hoops Preview | Harrisburg: Bulldogs looking to refuel

Posted on 11/21/2016, 12:14 PM

Since he took over in 2011, Jake Stewart has had two goals in mind.

The Harrisburg High School head girls" basketball coach puts an emphasis on winning 20 games and at best, getting his Bulldogs to a regional championship game.

To his credit, Stewart has four straight seasons of 20+ wins and has been in a regional title game the last four years as well, winning it all in 2014.

Harrisburg lost 80 percent of its scoring from a season ago and will replace four starters after the loss of Kelsey Hobbs, who has continued her career at Millikin Univeristy, along with Alexa Burtis, Hannah Bartok and Lilee Robinson.

"With what we lost, it"s going to have to come down to our "team" scoring. Kelsey and Alexa could go get buckets whenever they wanted. Lilee and Hannah chipped in scoring wise, but this year, we"re going to have to score as a team and run our offense better."

Stewart knows with this year"s group, being able to execute and run the offense at a pace where it"s beneficial for the Bulldogs will be priority No. 1 as the season gets underway.

"Like I said, when you have a shooter like Alexa on the outside that can knock down shots and someone like Kelsey could go and create her own shot, that helped out a lot. This year, we"re going to have to run our offense and find spots to score out of our offense more. I feel like this year we will need to play from the post first and spot up our shooters for kick outs.

All is not lost on Harrisburg however as the Bulldogs return junior starter Matty Hawkins, who averaged eight points per game for Stewart a year ago and will look to be more of a force on the defensive end as she is on the offense side.

Hawkins is tied for 16th in the state of Illinois for blocks in a game with 14 and she needs 54 more blocks to join the Top 20 All-Time lost as she has 318 in her career.

Toni Crisp is the lone senior on Stewarts roster this season, while Lotte Miller, Jessica Hopson and Hawkins make up the junior class.

Brooke Meylor, Alli Ferrell, Mackenzie Marshall, Shianne Barker, Madeline Rider, Karsyn Davis and Ivy Brown complete the sophomore class, while Essence Sanders and Lydia Miller are the two freshmen.

Short of wanting to win every game, Stewart said the goal this year will be to get to 20 wins and yet another regional title game.

"With this group, seeing how we have practiced the last few weeks, I know we will just keep getting better each and every day. Ultimately, we want to be playing our best basketball come regional time."

Michael Dann covers prep and college sports for the Harrisburg Daily Register and Eldorado Daily Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.

Coach: Jake Stewart

Last Year: 22-10

Who"s Gone: Kelsey Hobbs, Alexa Burtis, Lilee Robinson, Hannah Bartok

Outlook: It will take a while for Harrisburg to learn rules and what type of team they are after graduating 80 percent of its scoring from a year ago. Stewart says he hopes Harrisburg is playing its best basketball late in the year.

Breakout Season: Lotte Miller: Miller was Harrisburg"s sixth man last year and has been behind four older players the last two years. Now, it"s her turn.

Something To Prove: Matty Hawkins: Hawkins is the only returning starter from a team that fell to Carbondale in last year"s 3A Regional in Marion. Stewart is hoping Hawkins can prove this season how well she can play on the offensive end of the floor. He already knows how well she can play defense as she climbing up the IHSA all-time list in shot blocking.

Stat Opponents Should Fear: How well Harrisburg can shoot free throws

The Season Hinges On: "How well can we learn our roles and play together," Stewart said. "This is a brand new team, so once we find our identity, I think we will be okay."

Last Year"s Conference Champ: Benton

Conference Rankings: Herrin, Benton, West Frankfort, Murphysboro, Massac County

Top Players: McKayla Smothers Hannah Groutage (Herrin), Makayla Abney (Benton)

Ali Gisham (Benton), McKayla Brasel (Murphysboro), Morgan Griffin (West Frankfort), Natalie Hosman (Massac County)