After going through the regular season undefeated in sub-region play last season, the Lady Catamounts were hoping for another run in the state tournament. Instead, they didn’t even make it out of the region bracket.
Dalton lost to Gilmer in the opening round of the Region 7-3A tournament and never got a chance at state. Since then, the loss to the Lady Bobcats has been a nagging memory.
“The Gilmer game has been mentioned several times since then,” coach Jeff McKinney said. “We fully expected to go to the playoffs, but we had a very bad offensive showing, Gilmer had a good game defensively and one bad night can end your season. It was doubly disappointing for me because it was my daughter’s last game. It has eaten at me for a while.”
Dalton returns to the court this season minus Chandler McKinney and Annie Kate Snyder, but four starters — keyed by wing Maddie Howell — return and several other players received significant playing time last season. Howell, Brooke Thomas, Carson Sharp and Sarah Stinnett all started at times last year.
Still, while Dalton will have six seniors with experience as they move into Region 7-4A, the group has little in the way of a scoring pedigree. Howell and Chandler McKinney carried much of that scoring load last year, and coach McKinney is counting on Howell to do the same at least early in the year.
“Maddie just loves to play and loves to score,” he said. “I don’t see it being a burden to her because we have several around her who have done very well in practice, so I am interested in seeing us play. Maddie has three years of varsity experience behind her. That is extremely important that she has been through the battles.”
Dalton relied on its pressure defense last year, but with the team facing another year of being at a height disadvantage, McKinney said Lady Cats will have to be even more pressure-packed with their full-court attack.
“As a group, I think we are quicker or as quick as we were last year,” McKinney said. “Our practices have been a lot more running than they have ever been since I have been at Dalton. In order for us to be really successful, we will have to be in much better shape and play for 32 minutes.”
Dalton’s season begins in its own Lady Cats Invitational against Christian Heritage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.