Even with the majority of the roster returning, Eric Mitchell doesn’t shy away from the underlying challenge of building on a breakthrough resurgent season.
Platte County’s second-year coach must replace the production but perhaps more importantly the leadership from Reese Pickett and Joslyn Hupp — the standouts from a four-player senior class that endured difficult starts to their career but persevered to help engineer a memorable and successful turnaround. Both four-year contributors, Pickett developed into a versatile threat capable of dominating a game at both ends of the court, while Hupp became a consistent if not undersized post presence who led the Pirates in scoring each of the last two seasons.
The key for Platte County likely rests in the continued development of junior center Addy Schlake along with diverse contributions from a core of returning experienced players that also includes senior guard Lydia Doole and juniors Haley Barlow and Lauren Stone.
“We have a good opportunity to build on the foundation laid by last season’s team,” Mitchell said. “We need to understand that the next step to take is even more difficult than the steps we took last season.”
Platte County enters off of an 18-9 season, compiling one more win than the prior two seasons combined. The Pirates finished above .500 and recorded a district tournament victory for the first time since 2018-19, advancing the Class 5 District 8 title game before a loss to Lincoln Prep left them one step short of the first playoff berth since the program earned its lone state title in 2009.
However, this also marked the first appearance in a district championship game since 2011.
Doole, Schlake, Barlow and Stone all spent time as starters last year for a lineup that did not have a player average double-figure scoring. Instead, Mitchell focuses on defensive consistency and an offense without a focal point but plenty of viable options.
In addition to the top returns, Platte County senior Delaney Childers and junior Haley Schank both saw significant playing time last year as reserves, while sophomores Addie Ayers and Rylee Carr plus freshman Amani Harlan will also factor into this year’s rotation. The Pirates will clearly have depth and must find identify the best combinations to account for the minutes and production lost with the graduation of Hupp (9.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game) and Pickett (7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game plus 48 steals).
“I really like the makeup of our team,” Mitchell said. “We have a variety of pieces that are interchangeable and allow us to give our opponents different looks.”
A third-year starter, Doole averaged 6.8 points per game with a team-highs of 39 3-pointers (33.9%) and 69 assists. Schlake went from a key reserve to start the year to impact player averaging 6.4 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game — a stat line partially limited by her need to earn more playing time in the early part of the season.
Barlow will be a third-year starter who finished first on the team in steals (52) while averaging 5.8 points and 2.0 assists per game.
Stone entered the season as a starter before suffering an ankle injury that cost her a few weeks of playing time. However, she averaged 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game with much of the production in January and February coming as an impact scorer off the bench.
Schank and Childers were used in defensive roles off the bench, while Ayers and Carr mostly played in lopsided wins for Platte County, which also graduated guard Morgan Stewart and forward Mackenzie Shields. Now in Mitchell’s second year, roles should be more clearly defined after last year’s transition.
“This team enters the season with expectations of continuing to improve and take the program to the next level,” Mitchell said. “It will require us to play hard on the defensive end and execute of offensive sets. Our goal is always to strive for constant improvement throughout the season. We will need to come together and understand our strengths and weaknesses, and stay healthy.”
In Tuesday’s season-opener, Schlake scored a team-high 14 points, and Platte County pulled away for a 53-43 nonconference win over Savannah at Savannah High School. The Pirates led 22-21 at halftime but trailed part of the third quarter before reeling off 10 unanswered to go back in front for good.
Barlow added 12 points and a team-high five steals, but Platte County shot just 2 of 15 on 3-pointers with Doole hitting both to account for her six points. However, the Pirates were productive with 12 offensive rebounds, including five of Schlake’s team-high eight.
Stone scored nine points, while Carr shot a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor on her way to seven points, which nearly matched her scoring production from all of last season.
Harlan’s debut for Platte County included three points and four rebounds, while Childers collected four steals, two rebounds and two assists to go with two points. The nine-player rotation also included Schank and Ayers — likely indicative of the setup for this season.