Five CIML Iowa girls' basketball teams finished the 2010-11 season with winning records, two of those advanced to the state tournament.
A focus on improving its scoring potential is something Marshalltown is looking toward helping the Bobcats navigate the challenging schedule that is ahead.
Marshalltown returns the majority of its core group of players from a 4-19 record last winter, but the Bobcats will have to replace the scoring punch of leading scorer Kayleigh Eberline (8.2 points per game) who was lost to graduation, as was Nicole Peschong (4.8 ppg and the team leader in rebounds and blocks).
"There's some varsity experience coming back and I think they've really improved," said Marshalltown head coach Tim Johnson.
"We're looking forward to seeing what they can do this year."
Junior guard Taylor Wagner is the top returning scorer after scoring 5.1 points per game and showed a strong shooting touch last winter. Post player Lauren Mazour, also a junior, averaged 4.8 ppg as a sophomore.
2011-12 Marshalltown Girls Basketball Schedule
(All games 6:15 p.m. unless noted)
Nov. 22, at SE Polk, 7:45 p.m.
Nov. 29, at Indianola
Dec. 2, DM HOOVER
Dec. 6, at Urbandale
Dec. 9, at Ames
Dec. 13, DM NORTH
Dec. 16, VALLEY
Dec. 17, DM EAST, 3 p.m.
Dec. 20, MASON CITY
Jan. 3, at Johnston
Jan. 6, FORT DODGE
Jan. 10, at Waukee
Jan. 13, AMES
Jan. 17, DM ROOSEVELT
Jan. 20, at Valley
Jan. 24, at Dowling Catholic
Jan. 27, at Mason City
Jan. 31, OTTUMWA
Feb. 3, at Fort Dodge
Feb. 7, at Ankeny
Feb. 10, WAUKEE
The senior class will be led by Rachel Mattox, a starter last year, Amanda Schrempf and Abby Keith.
"There are a couple newcomers that will be in there," Johnson said. "One will be Madi Bellile, she played a little bit last year and she's one that has been shooting the ball well for us. Amanda Hughes is another one to watch. We have two young posts, we don't think of Lauren Mazour being very young because she played as a freshman and sophomore on varsity, but she's still only a junior, and out there with her we can put a really athletic post in Eisha Oden."
There's not much height after Mazour and Oden so keeping them out of foul trouble will be key, Johnson said.
"They have to be able to get in there and challenge plays, rebound," Johnson said, "and stay out of foul trouble. In our league it's always rough underneath and they are going to have to play ball, but smart ball."
Moving up in the Class 4A scoring averages - MHS was 46th out of 48 teams at 31.2 points per game - will be necessary to help the Bobcats' chances and will occur by shooting the ball better (26.4 percent shooting percentage as a team in 2010-11).
"Right now, it looks good. In practice they've been shooting the ball well," Johnson said. "We put them on a little shooting regime across the summer, and we've come in here and we do a lot of shooting drills early on.
"We want to get them back in to rhythm and challenge them all the time to be better shooters. To do that, we've been doing different drills, having some competitive drills where they shoot against each other."
"Hopefully that translates to a ballgame," he added.
Waukee is the defending CIML Iowa champions and four of their top five scorers were non-seniors last season. The Warriors were joined at the state tournament by Mason City. The Mohawks are led by standout guard Jadda Buckley, a junior that verbally committed to Iowa State University earlier this month. Ames and Valley both have several top returning scorers back in the fold.
"Once again we do have a lot of youth on our team," Johnson said. "The hope is we can get out there and be competitive in conference and be able to steal a couple ballgames."
Today at the Kiwanis CIML Jamboree, Marshalltown squares off with Des Moines Lincoln at 10 a.m. at Southeast Polk High School. Lincoln will be a good first test as the Rails bring back a pair of double-digit scorers from last year's squad.
"It's going to be nice to go game speed against a team that doesn't know your plays, it helps you tweak some things, that not you overlook, but just to see where your weaknesses are so you can put them into your practices and get worked out," Johnson said. "What I hope is we get that game-style look, and once the bullets start flying, we get our composure. Then can we execute? Can we do what we've been doing in practice for a couple weeks?
The Bobcats open the regular season on Tuesday at Southeast Polk. The Rams were a state semifinalist last year and will be one of 4A's top ranked teams when the IGHSAU preseason polls are released. After playing four of its first five games on the road, Marshalltown has its final four games before the holiday break at the Roundhouse.
The 'Cats home opener is Dec. 2 against Des Moines Hoover, while CIML Iowa play begins Dec. 9 at Ames.