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By Kyle Sutherland | Photos by Ted McClenning

With the start of a new season, SBLive previews Arkansas high school basketball. Today, we’re bringing you eight teams to watch in the women’s Class 5A ranks. Over the next few weeks there will be features for each classification as well as player position lists.

Head to the website for full coverage and standings throughout the season. You can also listen to our weekly podcast, Arkansas Prep X-Tra, for even more in-depth coverage.

BENTON PANTHERS

The Head Coach: Jerry Chumley

Conference: 5A-South

End of 2021-22: 19-9, 5A first round state

Notable departures

Wesley Ferguson | Transferred to IMG Prep

Players to watch

G Zayyah Bufford 5-5 SR

G Presley Chism 5-8 SR

G Addison Davis 5-5 SR

F Alyssa Houston 5-10 SR | tournament all states, all states

G Madison McIntire 5-8 SR

G Presley Palette 5-9 JR

F Parker Sterns 6-2 SO

A Ashley Wallace 5-9 JR

Outlook

It was a quick exit for the Lady Panthers in the state tournament as they came up against a Vilonia side that couldn’t miss. With four returning starters, led by all-state forward Houston (17 points and 12.2 rebounds per game) and deep senior class, a special season could be on the horizon. All of last year’s losses came at the hands of teams that made the state tournament, including 4A champion Nashville and 5A champion Jonesboro.

The coach said

“(We have) a lot of experience coming back (4 full-time starters). Improving key player scores in the offseason and chasing a strong defense are keys to success for 22-23 Lady Panthers .

-Jerry Chumley

GREENWOOD BULLDOGS

The Head Coach: Clay Reeves

Conference: 5A-West

End of 2021-22: 28-4, 5A state champion

Notable departures

Megan Gray | all states, signed Hendrix

Abby Summit | all states, Arkansas-Fort Smith signatory

Players to watch

G Mady Cartwright 5-11 SR | All-State and All-State Tournament Most Valuable Player, Tulsa signer

G Jenna Honkala 5-5 SO

G Kylah Pearcy 5-8 FR

A Riley Potts 6-2 FR

G/F Adriana Rusin 5-8 SR

G Carley Sexton 5-6 JR | all states tournament

G Izzy Smith 5-5 SO

G Anna Trusty 6-0 JR | All State Tournament, All State, SBLive Sophomore of the Year

G Ella Williams 5-6 SR

G Brooklyn Woolsey 5-7 JR

Outlook

The defending 5A champions are favorites to win it all again after securing Reeves his sixth state title in Greenwood, and ninth overall, a season ago. Two of the state’s best players in Tulsa, signees Cartwright and Trusty, are as consistent of a tandem as you’ll find, while Sexton, who swept the game-winner against West Memphis in the quarterfinals, and Pearcy have received the attention of the college.

The coach said

“We have many returning players with experience. Many will have new roles. Returning players and new players will need to work together to help this team forge its identity. Team chemistry and understanding what each player needs to do to help this team succeed.

-Clay Reeves

LITTLE ROCK CHRISTIAN WARRIORS

The Head Coach: Ronald Rogers

Conference: 5A-Central

End of 2021-22: 24-5, 5A State semi-finalist

Notable departures

Ashton Elley | all states, Alabama-Birmingham signatory

KK Young

Ashley Hopper | All-State Tournament, Mid-America Christian University Signer

Players to watch

G/F Kate Denton 5-8 SR | Evangel Christian University is committed

G AJ Jackson 5-7 SW

F JB McNay 5-9 SW

G Whitley Rogers 5-10 FR

G Mia Smith 5-6 SR | all states, the commitment of the Christian University of Central America

G Ella Watson 5-8 JR

Outlook

After making a Final Four last year, the Lady Warriors are looking to take a step closer to Hot Springs and win their first state title since 2019. Denton and Smith’s leadership and experience will be crucial after lost Elley and Hopper, and while there are talented underclassmen who will need to step up, another tough schedule should prepare them for the playoffs.

The coach said

“We have our playmaker (Smith) back and it’s always great to have your floor general, as well as Kate Denton, so we’re in good hands with those two as captains of our crew. We have a lot of young talent that needs to grow, we think we could take a few bumps early on, but once we have a few games under our belt we can have a great run at the end.

-Ronald Rogers

MARION PATRIOTS

The Head Coach: Shunda Johnson

Conference: 5A-East

End of 2021-22: 21-11, 5A State semi-finalist

Notable departures

Daedrianna Cail | all states

Jessica Robin | all states tournament

Players to watch

G Ayanna Haynes 5-7 SO

F Alyse Holliman 6-0 SR

G Ny’Asia Jackson 5-2 JR

G/F Taylor Little 5-9 SR

G/F Kiera Neal 6-0 SR

G/F Mariyah Rucks 5-10 SW

G Falencia Selvy 5-5 SR

G Aaliyah Taylor 5-10 SR

Outlook

Cali and Robins — who had a stellar showing in the state tournament — are gone, but four starters return for a deep Lady Patriots squad, most of whom have college offers. With non-conference games including Little Rock Central, Russellville, Conway and Bryant, as well as the Eastern Conference grind, Marion should be battle tested enough for another deep run.

The coach said

We have a lot of return experience this season and our team wants to play fast by advancing the ball quickly in attacking transition. However, we believe that our team’s overall defensive concepts should show more effectiveness when making multiple fences, especially covering three-point shooters in the half court.

-Shunda Johnson

PARAGOUL RAMS

The Head Coach: Sonja Tate

Conference: 5A-East

End of 2021-22: 16-6, 5A State Quarterfinals

Notable departures

Carson DeFries | all states, signatory of Williams Baptist University

Players to watch

F Keimauri Brown 6-2 SR | all states tournament

G Shakira Brown 5-8 JR | all states

G Hadlee DeFries 5-6 SR

F Mikayla Lambert 6-0 JR

P Kalyn Lamb 5-10 SR

G Dixie Williams 5-8 SO

Outlook

As one of the rugged 5A-East teams that got somewhat lost in the shakeup last season, proved their worth on the big stage that rocked Lake Hamilton in the state tournament. Their floor general, Carson DeFries, is gone but everyone else returns led by the all-state sister duo of Keimauri and Shakira Brown.

The coach said

“The state tournament gave us a lot of experience to see what it’s like to be there and understand what it takes to become a champion. I talk about that a lot and try to infuse that in their state of mind. We come into (this year) with what I would say is a team of veterans and the expectations are very high for this group. I’m just trying not to get in their way and help them find where they have to be on the pitch and how they see the game.”

-Sonja Tate

RUSSELVILLE CYCLONES

The Head Coach: Does Stewart

Conference: 5A-West

End of 2021-22: 13-14, 5A first round state

Notable departures

Gracie Campbell

Rayne Thône | Hendrix signer

Players to watch

Brenna Burk 5-6 JR

F Taleigha Ealy 5-10 JR | all states tournament

G/F Dru Robinson 5-7 JR

G/F Shyisha Willis 5-8 JR

G Zariah Willis 5-6 JR

Outlook

Will Stewart takes over the Lady Cyclone program after winning the 1A State Championship with Norfork a season ago. A young team went through a tough schedule finishing the regular season at .500 and clinched a berth in the tournament where they fell to Jacksonville by five points, but not before overcoming a big deficit. After gaining valuable experience last year, this team led by an announced junior class expects great success this year and beyond.

The coach said

“I think this team is very talented and one thing you will see from this team is discipline on offense and defense. I’m excited and I think we’ll have a successful season in all aspects of the tournament and the conference.

-Will Stewart

EAGLES OF VILONIA

The Head Coach: Jeremy Simon

Conference: 5A-Central

End of 2021-22: 22-6, 5A state quarterfinals

Notable departures

Addie Bonnema | all states

Madeleine Tipton | any state, signatory of Ouachita Baptist

Players to watch

F Maddison Grice 5-8 JR

F Lexy Heston 5-9 JR

A Maddie Mannion 5-11 EN

G Kinley Mears 5-4 SW

G Sidni Middleton 5-10 SW | tournament all states, all states

F Bailey Sims 6-0 SR

G Lila Toll 5-8 SW

Abby Wertz 5-8 SW

Outlook

Despite playing multiple underclasses, the Lady Eagles still raced through to the quarter-finals before falling to eventual finalist Jonesboro. They lost plenty of minutes with the departure of Bonnema and Tipton, but the experience gained should pay off for a group led by Middleton, perhaps the state’s top prospects for the Class of 2025 and one of the best shooters in Arkansas.

The coach said

“Although we are still very young, I feel like we have several veterans. We have four players who started most of the season last year. I’m looking forward to a great season with these players .

– Jeremy Simon

WEST MEMPHIS BLUE DEVILS

The Head Coach: erica leak

Conference: 5A-East

End of 2021-22: 16-7, 5A State quarter-finalist

Players to watch

F Jayla Hudson 5-7 SR

F Clemisha Prackett 6-1 SR | Alabama A&M Signatory

G Daniyah Hornes 5-6 JR

G Alayiah Price 5-9 SW

G/F Aniya Price 5-8 JR

G Janiyah Tucker 5-5 SR | all states

F Tyra Taylor 5-10 SR

Outlook

A third year under Leak, she knows her team has the talent to finish with a trophy and also has the recipe to make it to Hot Springs after finishing second two years ago. Everyone returns from last season, led by top executives Hudson, Prackett, and Tucker, as well as Leak’s daughter, Tyra, who came on the scene as a rookie last season.

The coach said

“The experience of these girls is essential. The ball is really in their court, because we have all the pieces and anyone can score on the field. It’s just about executing and doing all of these things right. With the way the past two years have gone, there is some motivation to bring the state championship home and we hope to do so.

-Erica Leak

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