PBL High School girls basketball to start 2018-19 season on Monday

PAXTON -- After a morning practice on Thursday, Nathan Lawler, Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School's head girls basketball, told his players they have a target on their backs.
 
Last year, the Panthers finished their season with a 20-8 record that includes the Sangamon Valley Conference Tournament, in which PBL won the championship.
 
"I think, because we're so young, they don't realize that, but the reality is we're getting everyone's best game every night, so they have to understand that last year's accomplishments does put that target on our back, and if we don't show up and practice hard every day, then it's going to be a struggle," Lawler said.
 
The Panthers lost five players to graduation from that team, including Liberty Jamison, who is playing basketball at Lake Land College, Cassidi Nuckols who is playing at Parkland College, and Ariana Gentzler, who is playing college volleyball at Vincennes University.
 
"We lost a great group of seniors last year, but I think it's kind of exciting to coach a younger group," Lawler said. "We have a lot of youth and a lot of energy. It's going to be fun to see them develop throughout the year."
 
Of the 24 players in the PBL High School girls basketball program, 18 are underclassmen. 
 
"The program is growing," Lawler said.
 
Mackenzie Bruns, who averaged 5.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.6 steals per game last season along with scoring a game-high 16 points in last season's SVC Tournament semifinal win over Cissna Park, and Madi Peden return for their junior seasons while Baylee Cosgrove returns for her sophomore year.
 
"Madi Peden is an all-conference type player. Mackenzie Bruns is an all-area caliber player. We still have three big-time contributors," Lawler said.
 
Katelyn Crabb, a senior, joins the girls basketball team after being named to the all-SVC first team in volleyball last fall.
 
"She's a big time athlete," Lawler said.
 
Kirra Lantz and Clarisa Wieneke return as well.
 
"We'll have some pieces together, for sure," Lawler said.
 
The Panthers will start their season at the Lady Falcon & Bunnie Tip-Off Classic at Fisher High School, starting with a 5:30 p.m. game Monday against Villa Grove/Heritage. They will continue play in the tournament at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday against Tolono Unity, at 7 p.m. Thursday against Fisher and on Friday in a game to be determined.
 
After playing Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Pontiac, PBL will travel on Monday, Nov. 26, to face a Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin team that includes junior Emily Meidel, a 2018 News-Gazette all-area first-teamer whom Lawler said is "maybe one of the best players in the area."
 
Some new opponents on PBL schedule include Heyworth (Dec. 17 at Heyworth), Urbana (Jan. 3, 2019, at home) and Champaign Centennial (Jan. 7, 2019, at Champaign).
 
"We loaded it up. We don't play a bad team all year," Lawler said. "Everyone's pretty tough. Our first half of the season before conference play is extremely tough. We've got to be ready to go pretty quickly."
 
The Panthers will start conference play at home against Dwight on Thursday, Nov. 29. They will travel to face Clifton Central on Dec. 6 before hosting Momence on Dec. 13, travel to face Iroquois West on Jan. 10, host defending SVC regular-season champion Watseka on Jan. 24 and travel to face Cissna Park on Jan. 31.
 
"Cissna lost a little bit, but Clifton's got a lot of girls back," Lawler said. "They're younger, like we are. Watseka's still got a good group of seniors. Dwight's got a really good ballplayer that's, I think, a sophomore. The conference is kind of up in the air. It's going to be a battle every night. We're going to have our hands full all year." 

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