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Surprises are rarely neutral: They can be good or they can be bad.
For Steve Mills, Jefferson Forest's new head coach of the girls team, his early-season surprises clearly fall in the latter category.
Mills found out early in his tenure that he would begin his inaugural campaign absent two of the team's best players from last year. Guards Cassidy Ratliff and Katie Cousins have opted not to play roundball this season. Instead, the duo will focus on soccer, a sport in which they have proven acumen.
Mills certainly has a player with proven acumen in basketball. Amber Evans returns for her senior season. Evans, who has committed to Radford as an invited walk-on, will undoubtedly be the keystone to any Lady Cav success.
Standing 6'1" with a vast wingspan, Evans is "a good player who can dominate a game," said Mills. "We need her to average 25 points per game."
We have Evans on our short list of potential District Players of the Year, because of her strong inside play and smooth touch from the arc. As she is the only senior on the team, her leadership will be essential. It is also critical that she get help, if the Lady Cavs hope to replicate last season's 15-5 mark (8-4 in the district).
That assistance should come in the form of a trio of juniors: Erin Tomlin, Sam Wells and Monica Chiodo.
Tomlin (5'5") is an aggressive player who can plug in at one of the forward slots. "She's tenacious," asserts Mills.
Wells (5'8") is a transfer from Wisconsin. Feisty and competitive, Wells is making the transition to the team nicely, having just enrolled at JF in early November.
Chiodo (5'3") is a wee speedster up from last year's JV team She's the hardest worker on the team, per Mills, and Chiodo is known to hit streaks of solid shooting. She'll likely plug in at either guard spot.
Sophomore Taylor Clark, at 5'10", will be key in the paint and shows good blocking technique early in the year.
Classmate Ashley Evans (Amber's sis) is the team's Swiss Army Knife, able to plug in at the one through four slots.
Caleigh Gentry, another sophomore, was on Brookville's JV last year and brings some raw talent to the mix.
The team has two freshmen. Skylar Jenkins should see good time at point guard. A very aggressive player, Mills wishes her 62 inches of competitiveness was on a 70-inch frame.
Cassie Pelletier is a 5'7" transfer from New York State. With a good drive to the hoop and a love of the game, Pelletier appears to have power forward written all over her.
Mills knows he and his ladies don't have an easy path. "I'm excited by the challenge of bringing this team together from parts that haven't been together before," he said. "We need to be patient with the process...By mid-January we'll see what we really have."