KNOXVILLE — The Knoxville Panthers are coming off of their best season in a decade as they went 20-3 last year, winning 20 games for the first time since 2009-10. The challenge this year will be replacing one of the best players in program history in Katie Keitges, who graduated and took her talents to the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“The biggest issue will be replacing the 23 points per game that Katie scored last year,” 13th year Knoxville head coach Jim Uitermarkt said. “We know that no individual will do this on a regular basis so we have been talking to the girls about everyone doing a little more scoring this year.”
Keitges left Knoxville as the school’s career scoring leader but the Panthers return the other part of last year’s dynamic duo in senior guard Maggie Wilkins.
Wilkins, a third team all-state selection last season, surpassed 1,000 career points last year while averaging 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3 steals per game while shooting an impressive 53.1% from the field and 40.2% from three.
Wilkins will take the torch this year but will receive a lot of attention from opposing teams this year as she will be thrown everything and the kitchen sink from her opponents this season without Keitges joining her in the back court.
That being said, she is likely still to find a way to dominant both sides of the court.
Joining Wilkins will be seven girls with a lot of varsity experience including three other starters in seniors Marley McKay and Tara Uitermarkt and sophomore Emma Dunkin.
McKay (3.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.8 SPG), Uitermarkt (3.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.3 SPG) and Dunkin (5.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG) should have increased rolls this year and Knoxville needs them to take steps forward to have another big season.
Other girls expected to slot into the rotation include Charlee Heffron, Norah Pearson, Melanie Sullivan and Larissa Wells.
“We have a great deal of returning experience. We have eight girls with lots of varsity playing time and return four starters. We will be quick and look to play at a fast pace as we have done the last few years.”
Knoxville was a perfect 12-0 in conference play last year to earn their third straight SCC title. Expect Knoxville to play up and down the court and be aggressive defensively. With the lack of height in the post, keep an eye on rebounding and blocks, two areas the Panthers struggled last season.
Centerville returns three starters and figures to contend with the Panthers after going 10-2 in SCC play last year with both losses coming to Knoxville.
Chariton is another team to watch as they perhaps have the best duo in the conference in juniors Emma Rector (17.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, 4.3 SPG) and Avery Hall (17.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.6 SPG, 2.1 BPG). Hall was limited to seven games last year due to a serious injury. With both healthy, watch out for the Chargers.
Knoxville knows they can’t replace Keitges with one player, it will take a team effort around Wilkins to take them where they want to go this season.
“We are excited about this group. They are very hard workers and really coachable. We think the team we put on the floor will be competitive each and every night. One of their goals is to win conference for the fourth year in a row, but we have some areas to improve on to make that happen. We are hopeful to play the season, so right now we are thankful for each day we are together.”