Mix of experience, freshmen bolsters turnaround hopes for Polk girls

Polk County junior Ansley Lynch returns this season after missing half of the 2016-17 campaign with a knee injury.

For a team that didn’t graduate a single senior last season, Polk County’s girls basketball program has a lot of newness hanging around.

There are at present 14 players on the varsity roster, for starters – the Wolverines barely had 14 available players in the program at times last season. There are new playoff concerns – power ratings and finishing ahead of Avery and Mitchell in the race-within-a-race in the Western Highlands Conference.

And there are new faces as a talented freshmen class arrives to begin what head coach Brandy Alm hopes is a turnaround of Polk’s fortunes after a difficult 2-22 campaign a year ago.

“All the girls learned a lot about themselves and our team last year,” Alm said. “It was definitely a learning experience.

“With five freshmen on varsity this year and all the freshmen we have, one of the best things about them is that they’ve all played a lot of basketball. With the returning girls as well as the freshmen, we’re going to have a very deep bench, which is something we haven’t had before. I’m so excited about that.”

Headlining the group of returnees for Polk County is senior Autumn Owen, an all-WHC pick and the team’s leading scorer last season at 15.5 points per game, and junior Ansley Lynch (7.8 ppg, 6.4 rebounds per game), who also earned all-conference honors despite missing half the season with a knee injury. Lynch could see action at shooting guard as well as small and power forward.

Also back in the frontcount are juniors Taylor Newton (4.8 rpg) and Willow Arkell. Freshman Kristen Hall is expected to also play a key role in the post, where she will be joined by fellow freshmen Rachael Davis and Kylee Mullis. Senior Kendall Hall is returning to the team after a season away and will likely see time at small and power forward as well.

“Having Ansley back, with the new girls, she can play more 3 (small forward),” Alm said. “She has the ability to go play guard or in the post.

“Kristen Hall is a big presence inside who works well with Autumn. With Autumn, you have her physicality and I’m so impressed with her love for the game.”

Freshman Sara Muse is likely to start at point guard, allowing senior Bella Marino, who along with Owen and Lynch are the team’s captains this season, to play more at the shooting guard position.

Junior Mariah Overholt (4.2 ppg), senior Karli Wood and sophomore Ava Marino return to the backcourt and will be joined by freshmen Julia Griffith.

“With Sara at point guard, that will allow Bella to get more shots,” Alm said. “That’s going to be a huge thing for Bella to put more shots up.

“We’re going to play aggressive defense and press and play an uptempo game on offense. But we’ve also got to be able to set things up and get in halfcourt offense and run a set.”

The deep roster will also allow Alm to mix and match those sets.

“We have a lot of different strengths we can use that we haven’t had in years past,” she said. “We have a lot of different looks on offense and defense.”

The WHC looks to be challenging this season – Mitchell is off to a 3-0 start, Mountain Heritage is 2-0, Owen is 4-1 and Madison is 3-1. Avery is yet to begin play but is expected to again be a factor in the league. Polk County will be pressed to move into the league’s upper echelon.

But things appear to be trending up for Polk’s program, with last season’s struggles hopefully nothing more than a distant memory.

“I’m definitely looking forward to this season,” Alm said. “I can’t say enough positive things about all 14 players.”