Based on their performances this season and the players they have coming back for 2014-15, here’s our take on the early favorites to qualify for next season’s expanded state tournament field:
Baldwyn: The Bearcats return all five starters and a deep bench from a team that felt it had the 2A title taken away on a controversial double dribble call.
Calhoun City: Talented group of guards return for North 2A runner-up. Guards Chakel Gates and Austin Burl will be seniors. Brieton Sykes (to-be junior) and Ladavius Draine (to-be sophomore) are both 6-1 guards.
Pontotoc: Popped on the scene and won 21 games. Losing leading scorer Anthony Townsend, but return the next five leading scorers, including 6-5 to-be sophomore F Ty Jones.
Tupelo: Senior captains JJ Ashby and Isaiah Traylor will graduate, but as long as Antonio Green is there, Wave can compete at a high level. The 6-1 senior will be one of the state’s top guards.
Aberdeen: As usual, Bulldogs lose a large class of seniors (7), but return one of the area’s top big men in 6-5 F Marcus Carouthers, who will be a senior.
Oxford: Top five leading scorers return, including, 6-3 junior F Shelby McEwen (12.7 ppg) and 6-1 junior SG Cortez Jones (13 ppg).
Belmont: The Lady Cardinals, won North and reached the 3A championship game this season, return 5-11 F Katelyn Nunley, G Elishia Jones and G Chloe Watson.
Booneville: The Lady Blue Devils, who captured the 3A title under boys coach Michael Smith, returned a talented backcourt of sophomore Gs in Adallis Young, Kabrina Hill and Maria Lauderdale.
Itawamba AHS: The Lady Indians, who shocked the state with their 4A championship victory against powerful Bay St. Louis, return key juniors in G Constance Dunn and F Tori Mallory.
Pontotoc: The Lady Warriors, who lost four key seniors, including G Kayla Russell, a defensive specialist and 3-point shooter, and G Olivia Owen, have PG Alex Brown and G Marlee Hatcher back to contend in Class 4A.
Tupelo: The 26-win Lady Golden Wave, who exited early in this year’s Class 6A North half, have plenty of stars back in G Jaleigha Polk and Fs Braxton Thomas and Marqueesha Hoskins.
New Site: The Lady Royals, who just missed making the 2A state tournament field, have some talent returning in 6-1 G/F Grace Elliott and G Allie Moreland.