River View head girls basketball coach Gehrig Justice is hoping the third time is the charm.
The Raiders are coming off back-to-back state tournament trips, but first round exits have left River View looking for more.
“We have been there, but now we want to win one and make a really good showing,” Justice said. “We still yet think we are the favorites to get there this year, but the regional game will be just as difficult either home or away. This region has some top talent in it.”
Over the last couple of seasons, the Raiders have battled the numbers game. This year Justice has 18 players total anchored my some skilled veterans.
“Nine of the are freshman that will be solely JV players, but they are helping us get better. Eighteen is more than we have had the last two years combined,” Justice said.
Seniors Trista Lester and Haylie Payne are double-digit scorers that return to lead River View this year.
The duo combined for 28 points per night and hauled down 14 rebounds.
“Hailey was the player that really came on for us last year. Her and Trista both run the floor well and have played a lot of basketball,” Justice said. “Both of the them can score inside and outside. Other coaches will likely scheme to stop them, but in crunch time, those are the two girls we are going to turn to.”
The two seniors anchor a team that averages nearly 40 rebounds per game last year.
“We never have had that really tall player, but the kids have always been really scrappy,” Justice said. “Katie (Bailey) averaged right at 10 rebounds, but we really didn’t have anybody that got 14 or 15 rebounds per game. Our team rebounding has always been pretty good.”
Bailey is the third senior member of this year’s team and averaged seven rebounds per game last year.
With teams likely focusing on Lester and Payne, Justice believes this could be a breakout year for junior Abby Pruitt.
“Abby is 5-foot-10 and has spent the summer and fall in the weight room. She is one of our strongest players that runs the floor really well,” Justice said. “She is good around the basket, but she has an outside game too. Abby gives us a post presence that we have missed the last couple of years.”
Ally Morgan was a key component up top that was lost to graduation. Justice will turn to first year senior Morgan Marek and sophomore Kaylee Blankenship to fill that gap.
“Morgan is a setter in volleyball and a second baseman in softball, so she is an athlete. She is a girl that can give us some quality minutes. Morgan is built like Ally,” Justice said. “Kaylee has been running the point and plays a little wing for us too. She can get up and down the floor. I think the combination of those two can give us what Ally gave us.”
Brooke Fuller is also expected to add some scoring punch for the Raiders who definitely have the components for a third straight trip to Charleston.
However, a return trip to the state tournament is by no means a lock this year.
“(Sectional foe) James Monroe has all of its players back and we had our hands full with them last year. The other side (of the region) has Webster County who still has Sydney Baird back. Greenbrier West made big improvements last year,” Justice said. “The last couple our years if we won our side, we felt like we had a good track to the state tournament. This year, I don’t think that is the case.”
River View opens the season on the road at Mount View, Nov. 30.