Michigan Lutheran's girls basketball team won the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White Division title and a Division 4 district championship last season.
With much of the roster back, the Titans are hoping to accomplish even more this season.
"We'd like to take a step further," Lutheran coach Ron Briney said. "We're trying to set our sights high. We have enough talent back to compete for those same things and take a step. We've just got to get our new identity together and see where that takes us."
Lutheran returns three all-conference players, led by senior guard Mara Rugen, who averaged 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 steals per game. Junior point guard Jessi Jewell also returns after producing 11.4 points and 3.4 steals per contest.
Senior Rebekah Hisle was also an all-conference pick, averaging 4.0 points and 5.1 rebounds. At 5-foot-7, she is tied for the Titans' tallest player along with seniors Maria Rush and Abby Harris. Those three, along with 5-6 senior Clare Berghaus, lead the way inside.
"They're kind of the ones that have held down the forward and center spots and done some very good things for us," Briney said.
Lutheran will also look for contributions from junior guards Hailey Conrad, Lexi Tobias, and Jenna Koehler, a newcomer from Wisconsin.
"I think we have more depth this year than we did last year," Briney said. "We definitely are smaller, but we've got more depth and ball-handling ability.
"We like to press and we like to run, and that certainly fits when you've got some quickness and athleticism."
Briney named New Buffalo and River Valley as top contenders for both the division and district. The Titans open at home against New Buffalo on Tuesday.
Lawrence has a new coach, Rasaun Brown. The Tigers finished 5-16 last season, including 3-9 in the BCS White.
"I am happy what I have seen so far, consistent effort and focus," Brown said. "That along with the togetherness of this group has me excited for this season."
Key players include senior guards Catalina Mancera and Peyton Murney and sophomore forward Savannah Peek.
Brown said that Mancera is athletic and a strong defender, Murney a good ball-handler and shooter, and Peek an inside-outside threat and vocal leader.
Countryside will field a team again after not competing last season. Athletic director Derek Nestich will coach the Cougars.
"We are aware of the challenges we will face this season," Nestich said.
The Cougars do have two returning letterwinners from previous seasons back in senior Yneisha Washington and junior Carolina Pullen.
Brandywine has won seven regional championships in the last 10 seasons, including last season.
"We’re really proud of that," Brandywine coach Josh Hood said. "We’re going to do our best to get back there this year.
"The girls can’t live in the past. We’ve got a lot to work on and improve at."
The Bobcats have several four-year varsity players. Leading them is returning all-state point guard Zakiyyah Abdullah, who averaged 13.9 points per game.
"She kind of spearheads everything we do at the point," Hood said.
Other four-year players include first-team all-conference forward Kennedy Byrd, who averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds per game; defensive stopper Megan Schmidt, an honorable mention all-conference guard; and forward Bethany Duval.
Also back are 5-9 senior Alexis Rhodes (7.3 points per game) and 5-8 junior guard Malikiyyah Abdullah (6.1 points per game). Hood said developing depth will be key to his team's success.
"With our system and style we play, you can’t win a lot of games with six girls," Hood said. "We’re going to shoot 30-40 3s per game and we’re going to press for 32 minutes of chaos."
In addition to a long tournament run, Brandywine will look to reclaim the BCS Red championship. Comstock won the past three division titles behind standout Daisy Ansel, who now plays for Grand Valley State.
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