Karr, Hanf prepare to lead Panthers
through post dominated league
To the casual observer, the beginning of the season could be viewed as a blessing and a curse to Paola Panthers Girls Head Coach Stuart Ross.
The blessing comes in the form of not one, but two players already signed, sealed and delivered to Letters of Intent to play college basketball, including one to a Division One, Big XII school.
But the curse comes in the expectations involved in having not one, but two players already signed, sealed and delivered to Letters of Intent to play college basketball, including one to a Division One, Big XII school.
Earlier this month, seniors, Taelor Karr (K-State) and Rachel Hanf (Emporia) inked letters of intent during the early signing period to play basketball at the next level next year, freeing themselves, and their coach from an endless stream of scouting and coaching requests during the upcoming season.
“It was very smart and unselfish on their part,” Ross said. “It shows they are willing to put team goals ahead of personal accomplishments.”
And the team goals are lofty, given the fact that the Frontier League is stacked with outstanding teams.
“We have good senior leadership and depth,” Ross continued. “If you count Taelor, we have seven starters and ten letter winners returning.”
Of course, Ross was speaking of the fact that Taelor Karr missed her entire junior season because of a serious knee injury suffered in summer basketball. Karr though is at 100 percent this season, not even needing to play with a knee brace.
“Our depth is huge,” Ross said. “We have experienced depth . . . finally. Last year we started the season with one starter and three or four letter winners.”
All that depth will be put to the test in the Frontier League this year. The Panthers will take a team with dominate guards into a league that will feature dominate post players.
Ross singled out league rivals Gardner, Ottawa Eudora and Louisburg.
“Gardner is just nasty,” Ross commented. “They have a bunch of 5’9” and 5’10” kids. The Washington girl is one of the best post players in the league.”
Ottawa features one of the best athletes in the league too, in the form of Kara McFarland. Anyone who followed volleyball this season will recognize that name, as she led the Cyclones to a second place ranking in Class 4-A Volleyball including a Sub-State semi-final marathon against the Panthers.
“McFarland may be the best post player in the league,” Ross said. “Plus they have a freshman point guard that is really good and they are well coached.”
Ross said the Louisburg Wildcats are probably the league favorite in the pre-season, along with Eudora.
“Louisburg returns everyone,” he said. “Plus they’re gigantic.”
Finally Ross said that the Eudora Cardinals would be right in the mix in the league saying, “Eudora lost a lot from last year’s team, but they are well coached and will be a factor in the league.”
“There may be only one team in the entire league that may not be very good,” he said. “From top to bottom this league will be pretty salty.”
Even though Ross sees a league of dominate post players set to battle his dynamic back court duo, he is optimistic about the play of his own post players.
“Megan Hayes is going to be a force,” Ross said. “She has gotten so much better.”
“We definitely have potential,” Ross said. “We need to get out an play somebody to find out.”
Ross though is confident that his team will be able to compete in a league with so many good teams.
“We have good senior leadership, and the juniors are stepping up and taking leadership roles too,” he said. “We need to get into a game so we can see exactly what we need to work on.”
That first game can’t come fast enough for Ross and the Panthers, but they will have to endure another week of practice, as the team will not open the season until December eighth when they take on Bishop Ward in tournament action at Eudora High School.