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Nae Marion looks to lead a talented Science Hill team back to the state tournament this season.

Science Hill is the overwhelming choice to win the new Big 5 Conference championship and repeat in the District 1-AAA tournament.

Why wouldn’t it be? After all, the Lady Hilltoppers return a talented team with an imposing front line of senior Kijanae Marion and Kathryne Patton. They also have a trio of gifted guards in Kierra Whitney at the point, along with Lexi Greer and Colleen Coughlin.

That doesn’t include senior guard Jasmin Myers, who is suffering from an ACL injury. An All-Northeast Tennessee selection along with Marion, she is expected to be back in January, just in time to lead the Lady ’Toppers into conference play. Jayden Salts, Aniya Pace and Cierra Williams are others expected to contribute heavily.

“Our kids have done a nice job of working on their own,” Science Hill coach Scottie Whaley said. “Kierra Whitney and Lexi Green, you see how much they’ve improved on their ball handling and shooting. Kathryne Patton is getting better off the dribble, not just with her back to the basket. Aniya Pace and Jayden Salts are some of the best athletes in the school.”

DOBYNS-BENNETT

After losing all five starters from last season’s team to graduation, the plan is to play all 11 kids, according to Lady Indians coach Bill Francis. Senior guard Olivia Doran has the most experience of the current group. It’s unknown when senior Injoi Bristol will be back after suffering a torn ACL. Senior Madeline Lyons will take over as point guard with Caroline Hill and Shaelyn Henson also expected to be in the starting lineup.

Hannah Frye will see time at guard and forward, while Alexis Hood (6-2, sophomore) gives the Lady Indians an inside presence.

“We’re very small, other than Alexis Hood pushing 6-2,” Francis said. “We’ve had to drop back and punt with a relatively inexperienced team and a smaller team. Instead of the high-low, pound it inside, we’ve had to play to the strengths of the personnel we have. It’s going to be a work in progress.”

WEST RIDGE

Eight players on West Ridge’s team were starters last season. It adds up as some were starting at Sullivan Central, others at Sullivan South and one at Sullivan North.

Kristi Walling, who coached at Central before being named head coach at the first-year school, will look to keep everyone happy while constantly putting the best lineup on the floor. It could change according to matchups, but the starting five at last week’s jamboree were Emma Niebruegge, Jaelyn West, Allie Jordan, Allison Lambert and Chloe Nelson.

Players like Bradley Warner, Marleigh Pendleton, Lilly Crawford, Parker Walling and Abigail Taylor could also start. One player who has enormous promise is freshman Fallon Taylor.

“We have a lot of kids who can play this year. I feel I could change the starting five every night if I wanted to,” Walling said. “It might come down to game matchups because everybody can play, but it might be who we need that night.

“I was worried how the kids would come together, but I can honestly say in my time as a high school coach, it’s been the best group as a family coming together as one.”

DAVID CROCKETT

It’s a mix of experience and youth at Crockett with 5-foot-4 freshman point guard Bella Ferguson expected to play a big role for the Lady Pioneers, who reached the district title game last season.

Crockett has a pair of dead-eye shooters with senior Emily Trivette and Kaylee Tester. Other projected starters are posts Nora Walters and Kadence Fannon, who can play with their backs to the basket. Sophia Gouge, the younger sister of recently graduated Crockett star Emma Gouge, will play a key sixth-man role. Crockett coach Thomas Gouge is looking for his most experienced players to lead the way.

“Trivette and Nora, they fed off the seniors last year, and it’s for them to step up and lead,” Gouge said. “We have to find some good quality role players to go with them. We have to have the senior leadership from them and Kadence Fannon as well.”

DANIEL BOONE

Daniel Boone coach Beau Hauldren jokes his team can beat any other in the league if they want to play on the softball diamond. What isn’t a joke is the athleticism those multi-sport players bring to the Lady Trailblazers.

The group includes senior forwards Camryn Sarvis and Savannah Jessee. There is also junior post Maci Master, who has committed to play softball at Virginia Tech. Other multi-sport stars include sophomore wings Josie Jenkins and Kyleigh Bacon.

Jayden Riddle, a transfer from Providence, is projected at point guard. Kiley Beach, a 6-foot junior post, is expected to be a top interior player with freshman guard Lillie Waters showing a lot of potential.

“It starts with our seniors leading us on the court and in the locker room,” Hauldren said. “There are five or six players fighting hard for playing time. The practices have been extremely competitive.”

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