‘‘I think we’ll have a good team,’’ said veteran coach Penn Kurtz, who has taken Central to the state tournament 12 times in his 14 seasons at the helm, including 2004 when the Maroon Knights captured their only state championship.
‘‘We have three starters returning and several other girls who can either start and come off the bench and give us some spark,’’ he added.
A shortage on size appeared to be the biggest concern facing Kurtz and his coaching staff when preseason practice began. Dependable rebounders Amy Schmitt (5-11) and Emily Bosley (6-0) were among last season’s graduating seniors along with backup guard Michelle McGinley (5-5).
However, the Maroon Knights are counting on their scoring balance and defensive intensity to make up for any size problems.
Heading the list of returning letter winners are seniors Audra Droginske (5-4) and Kat Stiglich (5-9) and junior standout Kara DeSantis (5-9). They were among the key performers last winter when Central advanced to the state semifinals at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
After a freshman season in 2006 when she came off the bench and finished as Central’s second-leading scorer, De-Santis took over the brunt of the scoring load last season as the second-team all-state performer averaging 14 points and six rebounds per game.
‘‘Kara is a very athletic player who helps us in many ways. She can take the ball to the basket, shoot from outside and rebound very well,’’ Kurtz pointed out.
Droginske’s hustle, tenacious defensive style of play and ball-handling skills are well-documented.
‘‘Audra is sneaky quick on defense and she is our best shooter from the outside,’’ Kurtz said.
Droginske’s 2007 statistics line includes a 10-point scoring average, 4.2 assists and three steals per game.
Stiglich is another tough-minded defensive player with potential to be a solid rebounder. She averaged eight points and six boards per game along with displaying a winning attitude on the court. Stiglich and Val Palmer, a 5-6 senior guard, know what it takes to win in pressure situations, having been key performers on the last two Wheeling Central softball teams to have won state championships.
The veteran Maroon Knights cast features four other seniors with potential in center Lindsey Beaver (5-8), Cyrstal Kleeh (5-6), Kristen McLaughlin and Jaclyn Niggemeyer (5-6), along with highly promising sophomore Caitlyn Creighton (5-10). Rounding out the varsity roster are Allison Niggemeyer (5-6) and Cameron Cieply (5-7).
Beaver was battling some health problems during the preseason and her availability for the start of regular season was in question. If able to play, Beaver and the fast-improving Creighton can provide some inside rebounding and scoring help.
Kurtz is pleased to have so much experienced depth because of Central’s aggressive style that often resulted in foul problems last season.
‘‘If we can stay out of foul trouble, we can be very good defensively,’’ Kurtz pointed out.
Central’s schedule again might be the strongest and most demanding of any Class A team in the Mount State. City rival Wheeling Park, John Marshall, Weir, Steubenville, Magnolia and Weir are among the bigger schools on the slate. The Maroon Knights are also scheduled to play perennial W.Va. Class AAA power Parkersburg South in the opening round of the John Marshall Tournament on Dec. 14-15. Among the small school powers awaiting Central are Shadyside and Charleston Catholic, along with Linsly, Cameron and Sissonville.
The opener at Wheeling Park on Tuesday, Dec. 4, also begins Kurtz’s 15th season as the Central helm. Last season’s squad posted a 17-8 record, which included the Maroon Knights’ 12th state tournament appearance during this span.
Kurtz is among the many area basketball coaches who are looking forward to the first Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Tournament to be held in late January and early February on the Ohio University Eastern campus.
‘‘We’re really excited about the OVAC Tournament because it provides everybody with a chance to win the championship on the court.’’
Assistant coaches on the Central staff this season are Bob Robinson, Paul Kurtz and Suzie Dailer.
Fact BoxWhg. Central Girls
Dec. 4: at Wheeling Park 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 13: Steubenville 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14-15: at JM Tournament TBA
Dec. 18: Shadyside 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 20: Cameron 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22: Charleston Catholic 1:30 p.m.
Dec. 27-28: Undo’s Tournament TBA
Jan. 9: John Marshall 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12: Magnolia 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 15: Weir 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17: Wheeling Park 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 19: at Shadyside 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 22: at Magnolia 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 25: at Charleston Catholic 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: at Sissonville TBA
Jan. 28: OVAC Tournament TBA
Jan. 30: Linsly School 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 30: OVAC Tournament TBA
Feb. 2: OVAC Tournament TBA
Feb. 7: at Weir 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14: at Linsly School 7:30 p.m.