Plenty of Coast girls basketball squads have been chomping at the bit for the season to officially get underway -- and for good reason.
West Harrison is coming off of a 24-2 season; St. Martin returns an experienced squad headed by South Alabama commit Savannah Jones; Harrison Central posted a 26-8 record a year ago and made it all the way to the Class 6A final four; while Bay High played for a Class 4A state championship. And that's just a handful of South Mississippi's contenders.
West Harrison opens its season Saturday, playing Provine at Callaway's tournament.
"The fact we have to make the trip to Jackson, which is similar to playing in the state tournament, and playing in an unfavorable environment, that's what we need. Any time you play a Jackson school in Jackson it's going to be a competitive situation," West Harrison coach Otis Gates said. "We start out going to Jackson. Hopefully we finish the year in Jackson."
Never miss a local story.
The Lady Hurricanes (24-2 in 2014-15) will be led once again by forward Ameshya Williams.
As a junior, Williams averaged 26.7 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per contest. Gates hopes she can improve on those impressive numbers.
"Needless to say she's going to block a lot of shots because she's big and can jump, but she's got to play better defensively with her position," he said. "She's focused on what she wants to do, which is win the state championship."
Gates said Williams holds offers from LSU, Mississippi State and Southern Miss, and has picked up offers from Cal and Tulane. He said she plans to let the recruiting process play out.
West Harrison will have sophomore Deseree Moore manning the point with junior Dwaynna Kennedy in the post and seniors Vin'Sha Hatcher and Amari Graves at small forward and guard.
"(Moore) can handle the ball real well, sees the floor real well and knows her role," Gates said. "She's not necessarily trying to score all the time. She's trying to get us in our offense and then score when the opportunity presents itself."
The Lady Yellow Jackets (18-11 in 2014-15) may be one of the more exciting teams on the Coast in 2016 with Jones taking on a new role. Out of necessity last season, Jones was asked to play a lot in the post.
"She shot the lights out but she was having to do a little bit of everything, like be our big rebounder," St. Martin coach Gina Bell said of Jones, who averaged 22.2 points with 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals.
With her star back at guard, Bell said it will open Jones up and allow her to flourish by playing her natural game.
"She loves playing the guard. She shoots well and can make things happen," Bell said. "She sees the floor well and now she's able to pass the ball into the bigs and then they finish. I think we're going to see a lot more assists from her this season.
"Savannah is huge. We're going to try and do everything through Savannah."
St. Martin won't be a one-player team. In addition to Jones, Deona Morgan and Mercedes Brown are senior returning starters at guard and small forward. Senior Jesla McCorvey is recovering from injury but will play in the post, as will senior captain Ashley Pham and 6-foot-3 sophomore Daphane White, who transferred from Gulfport.
"(White) scores well with her back to the basket and rebounds well. She's going to be a big part of what we do as well," Bell said. "They're a talented group. It's one of the most talented groups we've had come through here.
"We just need to learn to play together."
The Lady Yellow Jackets open their season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in St. Martin's Super Saturday opener against Gulfport.
Harrison Central is at Florence Classic on Saturday, before hosting Hattiesburg on Tuesday.
Returning members of the 2015 Sun Herald All-South Mississippi Girls Basketball Team include: Pascagoula junior guard Jailin Cherry, George County senior forward Fredricka Dortch, Bay High junior guard Jamaya Galloway, St. Martin's Jones, Picayune senior forward Maya Whitehead and West Harrison's Williams.
Returning honorable mentions include D'Iberville junior guard Casey Ferguson, Bay High senior forward Simone Jackson, Pascagoula junior guard Alexis McBeath and St. Patrick junior guard Morgan McCrea.