Losing All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference and Region 24 point guard Kelsee Ennis to a season-ending knee injury last fall, Olney Central College women's basketball coach Clint Burris was forced to rely on a handful of freshman as the Lady Knights finished the 2012-13 campaign at 14-17.

Losing All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference and Region 24 point guard Kelsee Ennis to a season-ending knee injury last fall, Olney Central College women's basketball coach Clint Burris was forced to rely on a handful of freshman as the Lady Knights finished the 2012-13 campaign at 14-17.

With Ennis (#4 – Bloomington, Ind.) back in addition to returning starters Samantha Shoulders (#25 – Boonville, Ind.), Brooke Callaway (#20 – Hutsonville) and Leah Myers (#24 – Bedford, Ind.), Burris stated he is very excited about the potential of his 2013-14 squad.

"Kelsee got hurt at the SWIC (Southwestern Illinois College) Jamboree four days before our first game, then we lost by 51 (94-43) at Illinois Central and had two kids quit before Christmas," said Burris, whose team was 4-8 heading into January. "Our kids could've easily packed it in but we fought and battled all year.

"When Kelsee went down, it made our freshmen have to grow up. It reminds me of my first year when we had 13 freshmen and eight came back the following year and we won 21 games. Getting battled-tested (during an 11-19 season) helped them prepare."

Ennis averaged 13.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.4 assists per game as a freshman while helping lead the 21-12 Lady Knights to the Region 24 Tournament championship game, which they lost 62-58 to Southwestern Illinois.

"Kelsee brings a winning, never-say-die attitude," Burris said of his floor general. "She normally guards the other team's best player, runs our offense and is the one taking big shots.

"We told her to use the injury as a blessing from day one. Kelsee helped us in practice, broke down film and learned as much last year as she could playing. Now, she is an on-the-court coach."

Shoulders started all 31 games during her freshman campaign, averaging 8.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.7 steals while dishing out a team-high 106 assists (3.4), Callaway averaged 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals and Myers averaged 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds.

"They were fixtures in our lineup last year and bring leadership along with Kelsee," Burris said when describing his forward trio.

"Our sophomore leaders set the tone early in the preseason for how hard you have to work to be successful at this level. We've learned through the jamborees that you've got to bring it every possession."

Other returnees are guards Samantha Scott (#10 – Monroe City, Ind.), Emma Zerrusen (#22 – Teutopolis) and Dominique Rubin (#3 – Holly Springs, Miss.).

"Sam had foot surgery last year and came back in November but struggled getting back in shape and into the flow," Burris said of Scott, who sank 36 threes (second on the team) and averaged eight points. "Her dad is a high-school coach and she is a very heady kid. Sam has had a great preseason. She is getting better every day.

"Emma (2.7 ppg and 2.3 rpg) is a tough T-town kid. She is out the first few weeks with a stress fracture but other than that, everyone is healthy."

Rubin (1.1 ppg) received the GRAC Sportsmanship Award as a freshman.

"Domo is an unbelievable kid," Burris said. "You can tell the sophomore difference shows with her and Emma. They've both gotten a lot better."

Center Erin Barton (#33 – West Terre Haute, Ind.) was also a member of the Lady Knights last season but redshirted after injuring her foot.

"Physically, Erin reminds you a lot of Tabi (2012-13 All-GRAC and Region 24 first-team forward Tabitha Thurman)," Burris said. "She is very skilled around the rim and just itching to get on the floor."

Guards Shelbi Samsil (#1 – Orleans, Ind.), Katilyn Meinhart (#12 – Dieterich) and Alexus Shields (#34 – Bloomington, Ind.), forward Paige Yando (#21 – Rosedale, Ind.) and center Kelsey Pilant (#32 – Jasonville, Ind.) comprise OCC's freshman class.

"I really like this group," Burris said. "A few will make impacts right away. They're not going to be on the backburner."

The Lady Knights travel to Danville Area College (1-1) today for their opener before facing Moberly Area Community College (2-0) and 24th-ranked State Fair Community College (1-1) Friday and Saturday in the Wabash Valley Classic at Mount Carmel.

"This is the deepest we've been since I've been here," Burris said. "Last year, kids played out of necessity and when you have depth, kids realize that they have to earn minutes and will be held accountable.

"Chemistry is huge with this group. They all get along and we've got speed, size and shooters. Play for each other, not with each other, has been our motto."

Burris is 46-48 entering his fourth season as leader of the Lady Knights.

"You hear coaches talk a lot about how years three and four are big years," Burris said. "Last year, we still found a way to win 14, despite the adversity we faced and we've got high internal expectations this year. We've just got to take it day by day because every day is a battle."

Assistant coach Dave Casstevens will join Burris on the sidelines for the fourth-straight year.

"Most programs would love to have a coach Cass," Burris said. "You can't find a better guy. He provides stability and knows what to expect from me. Coach Cass really understands the game."

(Home opener set for November 18)

The Lady Knights will host McKendree University's JV squad on November 18 in the first of 16 games at the Dungeon.

"Our program has improved every year and you can see it in the attendance," Burris said. "We couldn't do it without our fans."

(Great Rivers slate begins November 23)

OCC opens GRAC play on November 23 against Southeastern Illinois in Harrisburg.

"The GRAC is no joke," Burris said. "Part of the reason we amped up our schedule is because you can't play cupcakes and expect to compete in our Region.

"Our schedule is like three high-school seasons, before Christmas, after Christmas and the Region 24 tourney. It's going to be a learning curve for our freshmen but they're prepared as much as they can be. They're mature enough and they'll be ready."

(OCC freshmen)

Shelbi Samsil

Samsil averaged 14.3 points, 2.5 assists and 1.9 steals as a senior for the 14-8 Orleans Bulldogs.

"Shelbi is one of the fastest players we've had," Burris said. "She's really matured skill-wise and Kelsee has been a big part of that."

Katilyn Meinhart

Meinhart scored 11 points last February in Dieterich's 42-26 IHSA Class 1A Neoga Regional championship win over Effingham St. Anthony, the 18th victory for the Movin' Maroons (18-12).

"Katilyn is a local girl and she is adjusting to this level," Burris said. "She is a very hard-working kid who gets better every day."

Alexus Shields

Shields earned All-Indiana Conference honorable-mention honors for Bloomington South.

"Alexus was a teammate of Kelsee's," Burris said. "She is a tough matchup. Alexus is strong and very athletic on the perimeter."

Paige Yando

Yando averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds as a senior for the 19-4 Riverton Parke Panthers.

"Paige played every position in high school on a very successful team," Burris said. "We're trying to turn her into a guard. We really like her versatility."

Kelsey Pilant

Pilant averaged 18.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks as a senior for the 12-12 Shakamak Lakers, Class A Clay City Sectional champs. At 6-2, Pilant is OCC's tallest player, drawing comparisons to former Lady Knights' center Hannah Ware.

"Kelsey is built a lot like Hannah," Burris said. "She is long and affects shots at the rim. She is becoming more aggressive."

(Olney Central College women's basketball roster)

#1 Shelbi Samsil (5-3, Fr.) – Orleans, Ind. (Orleans High School)

#3 Dominique Rubin (5-6, Soph.) – Holly Springs, Miss. (H.W. Byers High School)

#4 Kelsee Ennis (5-7, RS-Soph.) – Bloomington, Ind. (Bloomington South High School)

#10 Samantha Scott (5-5, Soph.) – Monroe City, Ind. (South Knox High School)

#12 Katilyn Meinhart (5-6, Fr.) – Dieterich (Dieterich High School)

#20 Brooke Callaway (5-10, Soph.) – Hutsonville (Hutsonville High School)

#21 Paige Yando (5-8, Fr.) – Rosedale, Ind. (Riverton Parke High School)

#22 Emma Zerrusen (5-9, Soph.) – Teutopolis (Teutopolis High School)

#24 Leah Myers (5-10, Soph.) – Bedford, Ind. (Bedford North Lawrence High School)

#25 Samantha Shoulders (6-0, Soph.) – Boonville, Ind. (Boonville High School)

#32 Kelsey Pilant (6-2, Fr.) – Jasonville, Ind. (Shakamak High School)

#33 Erin Barton (6-0, RS-Fr.) – West Terre Haute, Ind. (West Vigo High School)

#34 Alexus Shields (5-5, Fr.) – Bloomington, Ind. (Bloomington South High School)

(2013-14 OCC Lady Knights basketball schedule)

Today – at Danville Area Community College (5:30 p.m.)

Friday – vs. Moberly Area Community College in the Wabash Valley Classic at Mount Carmel (5 p.m.)

Saturday – vs. State Fair Community College in the Wabash Valley Classic at Mount Carmel (1 p.m.)

November 13 – at Parkland College in Champaign (6 p.m.)

November 18 – vs. McKendree University JV (7 p.m.)

November 23 – at Southeastern Illinois in Harrisburg (1 p.m.)*

November 26 – vs. Kaskaskia (5:30 p.m.)*

November 30 – vs. Danville Area Community College (7 p.m.)

December 4 – at Vincennes University (4:30 p.m.)

December 7 – at Wabash Valley in Mount Carmel (5:30 p.m.)*

December 13 – vs. Parkland College in the OCC Holiday Classic (7 p.m.)

December 14 – vs. ABCD Academy in the OCC Holiday Classic (5 p.m.)

December 17 – vs. Mineral Area College (2 p.m.)

January 8 – vs. John A. Logan (5:30 p.m.)*

January 11 – at Rend Lake in Ina (1 p.m.)*

January 18 – vs. Lake Land (5:30 p.m.)*

January 20 – at Lincoln Trail in Robinson (5:30 p.m.)*

January 22 – vs. Shawnee College (5:30 p.m.)

January 25 – vs. Southwestern Illinois (5:30 p.m.)*

January 29 – vs. Southeastern Illinois (5:30 p.m.)*

February 1 – at Kaskaskia in Centralia (1 p.m.)*

February 5 – vs. Vincennes University (5:30 p.m.)

February 8 – vs. Wabash Valley (5:30 p.m.)*

February 12 – at John A. Logan in Carterville (5:30 p.m.)*

February 15 – vs. Rend Lake (5:30 p.m.)*

February 17 – vs. Millikin University JV (5:30 p.m.)

February 19 – at Lake Land in Mattoon (5:30 p.m.)*

February 22 – vs. Lincoln Trail (5:30 p.m.)*

February 26 – at Shawnee College in Ullin (5:30 p.m.)

March 1 – at Southwestern Illinois in Belleville (1 p.m.)*

*(denotes Great Rivers Athletic Conference game)