HANNIBAL - The last two seasons have been pretty good to the River girls' basketball team as it navigated its way to back-to-back district tournament appearances.
Head coach Rick Isaly lost a superb senior class, led by state track champion Cassidy McCullough, standout guard Laken Ramsay, three-year center Emilee Weaver, Leslie Young, Hannah Jones and Myla Smith. McCullough, who is running track at West Virginia Wesleyan, averaged 14 points per game last season, while Ramsay, who is playing hoops at OUE, added 12.2.
"We had a great year because we had a great group of seniors," Isaly said.
"It will be tough to fill their shoes, especially a player the caliber of Cassidy. You can't replace a girl like that in one year because they only come around once in a lifetime."
But, the cupboard isn't totally bare as up-and-coming 6-foot Jensen Caretti will be a force to reckoned with on the inside. She averaged a double-double last year with 12 points and 10 rebounds an outing.
"We've got high expectations for her," Isaly said of his prized sophomore. "She had a good year last year, but we're going to ask her to do a lot more this season. She can be as good as she wants to be because she has all the skills and natural talent, but she needs to listen to what the coaches are telling her to do to get better.
"She can run, shoot, dribble and rebound, but she needs to improve her inside game," Isaly said. "She needs to be able to step out and hit that 12-15 foot jumper at times because we know we're going to see a lot of sagging defenses on her.
"When that does happen, and believe me it will happen every game, the other girls need to step up."
In addition to Caretti, two other players - junior Haylee Bowers (5-4) and senior Landyn Ramsay (5-2) - have varsity experience.
"We've only got three girls who have ever stepped onto the court for a varsity game," Isaly said. "But we have a lot of athletes on the team, but they're just not basketball players yet.
"We lost 75 percent of our scoring from a year ago, so we're going to have to rely on our quickness, especially on the defensive end of the court."
Bowers will be counted on to use her fierce competitive edge on the inside.
"Haylee is a very good athlete," Isaly noted. "She can drive to the basket and draw fouls, and she is a good free-throw shooter, as well.
"She is not afraid to mix it up some, and she will be counted on heavily in the paint."
Ramsay was the Pilots' leading 3-point shooter a season ago, which is something that she will be counted on to do again this year.
"She's a very good outside shooter," Isaly said. "She can knock them down."
Other seniors include 5-10 Mikayla Cieszeski and 5-4 Gabby Goudy.
"Mikayla will give us some height and determination on the inside, while Gabby will be a guard who can shoot and play defense.
Both are very athletic and should help us out," Isaly said.
According to Isaly, the point guard will be 5-3 junior Devyn Potts.
"Devyn is very quick and can handle the ball," he said. "She is also a very tenacious defensive player."
Other juniors are 5-3 Monica Curtis and 5-3 Mackenzie Marshall.
"Both of these girls are going to be good players," Isaly added. "They are both pretty good athletes."
Rounding out the varsity roster is sophomore Abby Caldwell, the cousin of former Pilots' standout Cody Caldwell.
"She is very quick and athletic," Isaly noted.
Injured again this season is promising sophomore Brielle Williams. her status is unknown.
"Our strengths will be our inside game with Jensen and Mikayla and our defense," Isaly said. "Weaknesses will be our ballhandling and outside shooting."
The Pilots, who debut Saturday at home against Monroe Central, play the exact same schedule as a year ago.
"Our schedule is the same as it has been in my nine seasons here," Isaly said. "We've got some really good opponents in Fort Frye, St. Clairsville and Bridgeport. Fort Frye should be loaded once again, and I look for St. Clairsville to be pretty good. Then you have bridgeport which is loaded."
River also plays its PVC rivals such as Shenandoah, Buckeye Trail, Caldwell and Monroe Central, as well as Magnolia, Shadyside, Frontier and St. John Central.
The Pilots did defeat Fort Frye once last season, while also handing Bridgeport two of its three setbacks.
The JV squad will be comprised of sophomores Elizabeth Bremenkamp (5-5), Tiffany Connors (5-7), Jessica Karpacs (5-5) and Haylee Winkler (5-10); and freshmen Bailey Caldwell (5-4), Kyndra Earley (5-8), Alex Karpacs-Brown (5-4) and Brissa Marshall (5-0).