by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley girls basketball team is entering a new era.
The best player in the history of the program, Grace Slaughter, graduated in May and is now playing for the University of Missouri women’s basketball team.
Last season, she was the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and the DiRenna award winner, averaging 27.86 points on 52.3 percent shooting and 39.6 percent from beyond the arc.
She also had 5.89 rebounds and 1.18 assists per game during her 2022-23 campaign; holds the school record for most career points and points in a season; and is 15th all-time in career points among high school girls players.
Replacing a player like that is nearly impossible, but veteran head coach Randy Draper and his players said they can still compete well in Suburban White Conference competition and in the playoffs.
“We are learning to score ourselves,” senior Annabelle Totta said. “Grace was really good for our team, but we’re going to have to adjust. A lot of us have been playing together for a long time, so the chemistry will still be there.”
“We have a solid group of shooters and passers.”
Grain Valley had other key players graduate, including Ella Clyman, who was a good rebounder and interior defender, and Camryn Bown, who was a solid perimeter defender and a good 3-point shooter. Senior McKenah Sears also will not be able to play this season despite being a senior due to a lower-body injury.
The Eagles still have some players returning who were a part of the rotation in 2022-23, and will likely sport some guard-heavy lineups this season.
Senior Finley LaForge will be one of those coming back as she is a combo guard who can shoot from the outside and pass well.
“I may have to fill in a different role this year,” LaForge said. “I may have to bring the ball up more. I can drive it when needed and kick it out.”
Totta is a high-motor guard who is great at scoring on the fast break and has the speed to beat her defender on the dribble drive.
“I am really not much of a shooter but I like to find our shooters and get the ball in their hands, so they can score for us,” Totta said.
Senior Meghan Knust is another returner from last year’s rotation. She’s a forward who has a high motor and will help fill in the void left by Slaughter and Clyman on the boards. Junior Camryn Kelly also comes back with some varsity experience as she came off the bench to provide steady 3-point shooting.
Two players who didn’t play last season, but were a part of the rotation during the 2021-22 season, will return for their senior seasons. Emma Thiessen is a high-motor guard who can handle the ball and has the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble.
Emma Jane Ogle missed last season due to a knee injury and now she is fully healthy and will provide the Eagles some shooting from the outside and rebounding.
“She’s a heck of an athlete that we just added,” Draper said of Ogle. “Getting her back really helps our basketball team. She’s strong and she’ll really help us on the glass.
“Emma sat out last season and she’s back playing.”
Newcomers who could see some time on the floor include junior Pyper Hartigan and senior Ava Bollinger along with sophomores Addison Seyfert and Aspen Reed.
“Those are two sophomores that are going to play a lot,” Draper said of Reed and Seyfert. “They are going to make a lot of baskets.”
“Aspen is someone who can do a little bit of everything and Addy can shoot it.”
Now that the Eagles have a different team without an elite player like Slaughter, there will be some adjustments by Draper and his players. One thing that won’t change is to have his team focus on getting out in transition and utilizing a variety of press defenses to try and force turnovers.
“We’re going to do some things differently,” Draper said. “There is no question the team has changed.
“We did some good things over the summer and we’re going to have to get that to translate to this winter when opposing teams try to stop certain stuff. I really like our team. I don’t know when it will happen, but we’re going to be really good.”
Added LaForge: “We’re a quick team and we all have quick hands. When we rebound the ball, we are going to get out and push the ball. We all run the wings well and finish well.”
Grain Valley will open the season with a game against Ruskin on Nov. 27 in the first round of the WInnetonka Invitational.
Grain Valley senior Emma Jane Ogle returns to play for the girls basketball team after missing last season with a knee injury. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley senior Emma Thiessen prepares to unleash a jump shot during practice Tuesday. Photo credit: Michael Smith