Several area girls’ basketball teams are putting the final touches on gearing up for their season opener. A number of others have played at least one game.

In a nutshell: Teams like Atlantic and Griswold are looking to improve from promising seasons a year ago, while CAM will be leaning on two of its top role players to lead the team after a state tournament berth last year.

Exira-EHK is seeking to return to state prominence after missing a Des Moines trip for the first time in several years. AHSTW, meanwhile, could be one of the most potent, if not experienced teams in the area, while Audubon and ACGC also have top players back. Riverside will be looking to improve in key areas as they build their program.

Here’s a closer look at what area teams will have to offer this winter:

ATLANTIC

Coach Dan Vargason enters his second season with a lot of optimism after a 4-17 season last year, but a relatively thin roster with just 18 girls going out program-wide.

The best news for the Trojans is that the top two scorers – junior Haley Rasmussen (10.7 ppg) and senior McKenzie Waters (10.2 ppg) are back. They also return 89 assists, almost evenly distrubted (Waters edges Rasmussen by one) and are the top two thieves, with 41 steals for Waters and 38 for Rasmussen.

There’s a talented core cast, several with lot of experience, to surround Rasmussen and Waters. Corri Pelzer (4 ppg last year) is the only senior other than Waters, while juniors Taylor McCreedy, Lauren Nicholas and Maycie Waters played significant minutes, either as starters or top reserves. Each have already contributed this year.

Junior Tessa Grooms also has seen significant time on the floor so far, while Grooms’ twin sister Nellie, sophomores Chensia Narios, Aspen Niklasen and Melina Woodward, and freshmen Aubrey Guyer and Jada Jensen will also be expected to provide a significant lift off the bench.

But it’s the leadership of Pelzer and Waters that are expected to provide leadership as the team gets acclimated with Vargason’s expectations for the year. Waters will be the point guard and was lauded for her ability to run the offense, while Pelzer will play in the post and be counted on to provide a strong edge in rebounding.

“They’re without a doubt leaders in our school,” said the coach, referring to significant roles in different school organizations and multiple sports. “They’re both good leaders on and off the court. It’s nice to have that leadership in our program in addition to being good athletes.”

Of the juniors, Rasmussen’s speed, McCreedy’s athleticism and defensive aggression, Maycie Waters’ improved shooting ability, Nicholas’ great shooting ability and improved defense, Tessa Grooms’ wingspan and Nellie Grooms’ deflection ability should be big assets.

“A lot of them have experience in the system, but we need our juniors ... to buy in and keep doing what they’re doing. We’re going to need new contributors (to fill graduation losses),” he said.

Vargason said he expects three of the Class 4A schools – Glenwood, Council Bluffs Lewis Central and Denison-Schleswig – and Red Oak to be the strongest contenders for the Hawkeye Ten title.

ACGC

The Chargers have a few good pieces to build from, with senior Kennedy Young, and junior Kylie Young and Jorja Hoover three of last year’s top five scorers back.

Kylie Young has the best returning scoring average with 6.9 ppg, while Kennedy Young brings back a team-best 124 rebounds. Hoover also brings back 79 assists. The team will also be leaning on Alaina Bunde for scoring support.

The Chargers – they fell 65-49 to Audubon earlier this week – are looking to build off a 9-13 season a year ago. They’re next in action on Friday when they travel to Madrid.

AHSTW

AHSTW went 15-7 a year ago but saw a first-round district disappointment, losing to Sidney. That will likely be a motivator in improving this winter as they are expected to be in the mix for a state tournament berth.

The Vikings started four underclassmen – a junior and three sophomores – in most of their games last year, and that will likely give the team a big lift, especially on the scoreboard. Averaging double figures were the trio of Claire Denning (12.4 ppg) and Claire Harris (12.1 ppg), both juniors; and Kinsey Scheffler (11.7), a senior. Kailey Jones’ 9.3 ppg is also close. Harris led the team in three-point shots and rebounds (199, including 114 defensively), and also returns a team-high 72 steals.

Junior Julia Kock, along with seniors Saige Huss and Tristin Heiny, and sophomores Morgan Heiny and Nataline Hagadon are expected to play key roles for the Vikings this season.

Free throw shooting will be a concern, as the team shot 58.2 percent last year.

The Vikings are off to a 2-0 start after wins over Woodbine and CAM last week.

AUDUBON

Sophomore Aleah Hermansen got off to a great start earlier this week with a 13-point performance, on par with her team-high scoring performance a year ago (15.7 ppg) as a freshman.

With Hermansen and her teammates having more experience, they should be in line to improve from a 9-13 season last year. The team returns 41.2 points per game, with senior Leah Subbert adding 9.3 ppg second on the list. Jaci Christensen’s 165 rebounds was tops, while Hermansen added team bests in steals (57) and assists (53), and was second in rebounds with 133.

Rylie Hartl and Mallory Riebhoff also return strong playing skills, and the Wheelers have additional depth in Kaitlyn Neilsen and McKenna Petersen.

The Wheelers are 1-0 and will host South Central Calhoun tonight.

CAM

Madison Gettler and Paige McAfee, the 1-2 punch that led the Cougars to state last winter, are gone due to graduation. But the cupboard is hardly bare for Joe Wollum and his staff, as key pieces of the team are back to make another run for a Rolling Valley Conference title and state tournament.

Junior Zoey Baylor has the hottest returning hand with 8.1 ppg, and dished out a team-high 98 assists while also grabbing 87 rebounds and committing a top-returning 65 thefts. Sammi Jahde was the fourth-leading scorer with 7.9 ppg and has the best returning three-point percentage of 38.1 percent (45-of-118).

Marissa Spieker, now a sophomore, comes back with 4.4 ppg, 35 steals and 31 assists, while Molly Venteicher and Allison Spieker were role players last year and should see more time. Wollum also figures to play Grace Hensley, Grace Kauffman and Mallory Behnken in the regular rotation.

The Cougars are 0-1 and will look to crack the win column Tuesday at Boyer Valley.

EXIRA-EHK

The Spartans missed the state basketball tournament for the first time in five years after falling in the Iowa Class 1A regional quarterfinals to Westwood.

The really good news for Tom Petersen’s team is that they have most of the big guns back from last year and will be looking to make a return to Des Moines. Junior Tatum Grubbs will be the key part of the puzzle, after leading in scoring (14.5 ppg), assists (74) and steals (74) last year.

Sophomore Macy Emgarten had 10.7 ppg and averaged a team best 5.3 rebounds per game. Mollie Rasmussen hit 39 three-point shots, while Kamryn Waymire also offers strengths in steals (32), and Ellie Schultes steals (39) and assists (70). The team is deep and could make a strong case for a Rolling Valley Conference championship and a return to Des Moines come February.

Petersen’s team will, however, have to rebound from a season opening loss to Logan-Magnolia to do so. They get their first chance to do so when they host Coon Rapids-Bayard on Friday.

GRISWOLD

The Tigers were dealt a big blow when Jocelyn Amos, the team’s lone senior, was injured and is lost for the season. Her 8.7 ppg and 7.7 rebounds per game figured to be important parts of a team looking to improve on a 15-8 record last year and 11-3 conference record.

The good news for first-year coach Chris Hamilton and his team: A mix of veterans and newcomers will get their chance. That starts with juniors Mikala Pelzer, Hope Ogg, Josie Mundorf, Ashlyn Brownlee, Kalainee Teaney and Roni Hook.

Pelzer averaged 5.3 ppg and, with Amos now out, will probably be counted on to be the team’s leading scorer; she returns 46 steals. Ogg will play point guard and returns 2.9 ppg. Hamilton also added good things about his sophomore, and it will likely be Anna Kelley, Lydia Greiman and Brenna Rossell who will get called on the most.

Despite the loss of Amos, the Tigers still could be in the conversation for a Corner Conference title, a league where Sidney – coming off a state volleyball title – is the likely favorite.

“They’ve been working extremely hard and have a great attitude,” said Hamilton. “We have a lot of potential on this team. We’re pretty young, but there’s a lot there and a lot to work with.”

The Tigers officially open the season tonight, hosting Southwest Valley of Corning.

RIVERSIDE

Questions abound as to who will be out for the Lady Dawgs, as coach Taylor Schuerman is back for her second season at the helm. The team did not have a senior on the roster a year ago, when their top players were Jaydn Achenbach (7.8 ppg, 94 rebounds) and Kenna Ford (113 rebounds).

The Dawgs went 3-19 a year ago, and will be seeking to improve their scoring output of 27.2 ppg. To move up in what appears to be a tough Western Iowa Conference, improvements in field goal percentage (27 percent) and free-throw shooting (47.5 percent) will need to happen. The Dawgs were outscored by an average of 22 points per game, second worst in the league.

The Lady ‘Dawgs open on the road vs. AHSTW on Tuesday.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to sports@ant-news.com or phone (712) 243-2624.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to sports@ant-news.com or phone (712) 243-2624.