Caleb Riordan | Ameritime Sports Writer
In Missouri, deep inside Iron County, is a town called Annapolis. Annapolis has a population of around 300 people and is two hours outside of downtown St. Louis. In Annapolis, there is a high school called South Iron. They are the Panthers and they have less than 100 students enrolled this year. However, despite the lack of numbers, they continue to be one of the biggest basketball powerhouses in all of Missouri. Both the boys and girls.
The girls Varsity Panthers are coming off of a 25-5 season where they placed third in the Class One State Tournament. They only lost two players from last year’s team, Michaela Ayers and Callie Mille. They return three starters from the team and five players overall. The expectations this season are high… as always.
“We always try to put ourselves in a position to compete for a district championship,” Head Coach Lawrence Graves said. “That is something that we are always going to pursue.”
This Panthers squad is young, with Hailey Pauley as the lone Senior on the team.
“She brings an energy to our team on both ends of the floor in a variety of ways,” Graves said. “She too was an All-District selection last year.”
Despite Pauley being the only Senior. She has a few returning teammates that are going to be counted on to contribute in a big way.
Maddie Ayers is coming off a Freshman season in which she earned All-State honors. She will be running the show from the point guard position this year. She has shown great defensive ability and can put the ball in the basket.
Drew Gayle is also returning to this Panthers squad with some expectations. She was named All-District and All-Conference last season, and, according to Graves, is one of the team’s best overall shooters. She is 5’9 which makes her South Iron’s tallest player as well. She will be responsible for locking down the post and anchoring the defense.
These Panthers never back down from a challenge. They go out of their way to schedule tough teams so they are prepared for what the second half of the season holds.
“This year we were even able to pick up Thayer and Vashon, both of which had district championship teams last season with a lot of returning players this year,” Graves said. “Those types of teams really show you what your weaknesses are and that’s what we are all about.”
This young South Iron squad is going to rely a lot on conditioning and athleticism.
“Our strength is going to be our speed,” Graves said. “This might be the most athletic team I’ve had since coming to South Iron. Having that kind of foot speed really allows you to do a lot of different things, especially on the defensive end of the floor.”
If there is a worry at all for the Panthers coming into the season, it is their youth.
“We only have one Senior and one Junior,” Graves said. “Our Sophomores got a lot of playing time last year but they are still 14-15-year-old kids who have a lot to learn about the game and skills to refine. And on top of that, we are likely going to have to rely on Freshman again this season.”
One of those Freshmen is Enzley Dinkins, who happens to be the daughter of the boys varsity coach Dusty Dinkins.
“She will step in and give us some valuable minutes,” Graves said. “She has a really strong guard skill set and has the ability to guard multiple positions due to her strength and athleticism.”
Basketball is no joke in Annapolis. For both boys and girls. The Panthers not only expect excellence, they demand it. No matter how few losses are in the loss column, there is always room for improvement with the Panthers. The girls tip off their season in the Valley tournament Saturday, Nov. 28 and will look to avenge their loss in the State Tournament in 2019.