When Senior Night comes, the person who will be affected most will be coach Doug Graham.
The Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers have six seniors — four of whom are returning starters — and they will be the key to success this season.
Having a large and experienced senior class will be a luxury Graham hasn’t had very often.
“I’ve had others coaches tell me it feels like Arden, Hannan, Schreck and Williams have been here for five years,” Graham said. “Defensively, we have a chance at success with what we have back and with the young ones.”
Ironton was 11-13 last season and finished third in the Ohio Valley Conference race behind co-champs Coal Grove and Fairland.
But Ironton returns 5-foot-9 Riley Schreck, 5-9 Lydia Hannan and 5-5 Elli Williams — all seniors — and 5-11 junior Samantha LaFon to the starting lineup.
The only loss was sharp-shooting All-District guard Haylee Stevens who will be replaced by a former two-year starter in senior Lexie Arden. Stevens made a single-season school record 73 3-pointers.
“It comes down to working hard in practice and how much they will take coaching. We have a chance to be a good team,” Graham said.
Prior to last season, the 5-10 Arden suffered a season-ending knee injury. But Arden has been cleared to play and hopes to return to her sophomore form when she averaged 16.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in earning All-District and All-Ohio honors.
“Lexie can shoot the 3s well. Both Schreck and Williams are knock-down shooters. You’ve got to respect them,” Graham said.
Although Ironton doesn’t have any single player with great size, the Lady Tigers are blessed with several players who are long and can rebound.
“Lydia, LaFon and Kirsten Williams are where the rebounding starts,” Graham said. “Elli Williams is a good rebounder from her (point guard) position.”
Graham said that LaFon will give Ironton a legitimate post presence that has been lacking in the past.
“Samantha is one of the best post players because she has size, and size that can move,” he said. “You have to game plan for her. We have really good perimeter play and that will make it tough for teams to defend us.”
The Lady Tigers have 5-10 senior Abigail Patterson to back up LaFon in the post.
Also in the mix at guard will be 5-8 senior Kylie Deer.
The freshman class includes some potential contributors in Evan Williams, Kirsten Williams, Isabel Morgan and Teagan Carpenter.
Another player, who has shown the most improvement, is 5-5 junior guard Kameren Arden, Lexie’s younger sister.
“She comes to practice every day even if she is sick and puts in the work. She just gets better and better because she works so hard,” Graham said.
In the Ohio Valley Conference, Graham expects Fairland and Coal Grove to be the favorites but he sees a tough league overall.
“Guard play in the league is the deepest it has been,” he said. “(Alex) Barnes at Gallipolis, (Addi) Dillow at Coal Grove, South Point has a bunch of guards, (Lucy) Simpson and (Makayla) Scott at Rock Hill, (Harlie) Lyons and (Emma) Marshall at Fairland, and Portsmouth just keeps getting better.”