Injuries have the Lady Panthers looking into their underclassmen to step up.

By JESSE JOHNSON,

The Lady Petal Panthers are not off to the start that head coach Kotreece Bender had envisioned for the team at the beginning of the season.

Heading into the season the Lady Panthers had only lost one senior from a year ago, but with two starters moving and the rest out with injuries, the 5-11 Lady Panthers are looking to their young players to lead them until they can get healthy.

“This year we are really trying to rebuild our program,” Bender said. “With injuries we are having the learn-as-we-go-approach. We are really counting on our underclassmen to step up as we continue into district play.

One bright spot on the team is junior Makenzie Thomas, who has led the way for the Lady Panthers for the majority of the season before a stress fracture sidelined her. She was averaging 16.8 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game. She also is a great defensive player with 2.8 steals per game. Petal expects her to be sidelined for another couple of weeks.

Senior Letoyia Clark is averaging 7 points per game and 3 rebounds and is getting more minutes due to the players who are out. Her presence in the lane is a positive for the Lady Panthers.

With a lot of youth on the roster, two freshmen have stepped up with some key minutes – Jayla Brunson and Meyah Doyle. They are playing some key minutes with five points each. Doyle is also contributing on the boards with 4.9 rebounds per contest.

“These freshmen are handling the situation really well,” Bender said. “Most kids having to step in as young as they are wouldn’t be able to compete the way that these have.

“The biggest test for us is teaching these kids to battle through adversity. Adversity makes us stronger. We might be the only team in the state to have one group of five starting at the beginning of the summer to a completely different five midway through the season. Teaching these kids skills and getting them game time experience is what we are battling right now.”