Craig Harris/Macon County Times Dustin McKinney is entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Red Boiling Springs High girls basketball program.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Dustin McKinney is entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Red Boiling Springs High girls basketball program.

The Red Boiling Springs High girls basketball squad returns all five starters from last season.

That leaves the Lady Bulldogs with high hopes on the heels of that 17-15 campaign.

"It helps that I've coached the juniors all since eighth grade, and I've had the sophomores since seventh grade," RBS fifth-year head coach Dustin McKinney said. "It's just easy. It helps at the start of the season. They know the system. They know all the drills. They know what we're looking for, what's a good shot and what's not a good shot. Some teams, they just don't … even by February, they don't know what a good shot is."

Leading those returnees is junior guard Kennedy Fleming, who averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds per game last season.

"She's getting better off the dribble," McKinney said. "Her defense is improving. She's adding to her game. She played some good competition on her AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team.

"I expect a big year from her. She had a big year last year. We're going to need her to do the same thing for us to be successful."

Another three-year starter returns in junior point guard Haley Davis.

"This summer, she brought toughness to our team," McKinney said of Davis. "She doesn't look tough … she's a small, friendly girl, but she got after it. We have been missing that. It's a blessing to have a bunch of nice girls, but sometimes, you want a girl who isn't scared to mix it up a bit. She played that role for us. I thought it was good for us."

Sophomore guard Liz Anderson was in the starting lineup last season and was the team's third-leading scorer. However, an injury has hindered her progress during the offseason.

"She broke a bone in her leg this summer," McKinney said. "She didn't really get to do anything in July conditioning. It's been easing her back. It's going to take a while to get her legs under her. We hope by the time the season starts that she'll be back to where she was last year. It's just a matter of getting her healthy.

"She outplayed last year what we thought she could do. She's smart. She's another ballhandler. She's a good defender for her size. She's always in the right spot. She's a solid player. She made a few turnovers last year against good teams, but she's very efficient. She knows her role."

The team's third junior - guard Briley Morgan - will be relied upon heavily.

"We went to a different offense, more of a dribble-drive to spread them out," McKinney said. "It's less sets. There's a little bit more freedom. It will keep Kennedy and Haley fresher throughout the game.

"Briley is kind of a key. She plays pretty good if she gets 10 points a night. In big games, that's a big key. The games she didn't score, we didn't usually do well."

A transfer from Smith County High - sophomore Lindsay Randolph - is expected to round out the starting lineup.

"She has some size," McKinney said. "She has a good touch. She can make a 12-footer. She's good in the short corner and high-post area. She just has to get physically stronger. It's going to take another offseason, another summer and another fall (to increase her strength). A year from now she will look different. Her size, rim protection and being able to alter shots will help. If we can get those seven or eight points and seven or eight rebounds from her this year, that would be big, because we didn't get that from that spot last year."

Randolph's size, at 5-foot-9, is much-needed as the rest of the Lady Bulldog squad is guard-oriented.

"Lindsay coming in means a lot defensively with matchups," McKinney said. "We played a lot of man-to-man defensively this summer. We played probably 90 percent zone last year. Now, we can match up better. That's the biggest key for this team … whether we can be good defensively. We're not going to be able to score 60 or 70. We need to be able to make teams earn it."

Three sophomores -Hayely McCarter, Jasmine Pruitte and Iesha Smith - are expected to see action off of the bench.

"It's wide open," McKinney said. "I'd like to play six or seven. I have no idea who is going to take that role. Iesha could. Hayley could. Jasmine Pruitte just started back. She didn't play last year. In three or four weeks, she could have a role, just coming in with her defense and toughness.

"We have to avoid foul trouble, and somebody has to step up (off the bench) and take that spot. If somebody wants that spot, it's there to be had. That's what the early season is for. Hopefully, somebody wants that spot and goes and gets it. We have some really good eighth-graders who could come in at tournament time and be a boost for us. We have to use every tool that we have here. We can bring up eighth-graders."

McKinney's seniorless squad placed sixth in District 6-A during the regular season a year ago, falling to third-seeded Jackson County in its District 6-A Tournament opener.

"I'm not really a big goal guy," McKinney said. "We're just trying to get better. We say, 'Control the controllables.' Control what you can control. Last year, we were the six seed, and we played the three seed in the district. We beat them here (during the regular season). We were preseason (picked) fourth. Jackson County was preseason fifth. Playing them here versus playing them there is 15 points (difference). In playing our district games so early, we have to be ready."

District 6-A foe Pickett County reached the Class A State Tournament last season, and fellow 6-A counterpart Clay County was ousted by Moore County in the sectional round.

"Two of these (teams) in our district are going to the state tournament," McKinney said. "The other district we play in the region is not very good, and the teams we play in the sectional aren't very good. It's (a matter of) selling to our girls that if you get to that region semifinal, anything can happen.

"Those top three teams are separated from us (Clarkrange, Clay County and Pickett County). The way our team is built, Kennedy could go off for 25 or 30 against any of those. I think we can make 9 or 10 3s on a given night, so who knows (what could happen)."

McKinney expects eight-time state champion Clarkrange to be the team to beat in 6-A this season.

"Clarkrange has kind of separated themselves just because their guard play is so good," McKinney said. "Gracie Bush (a 6-A Second Team All-District selection) is back. She's as solid as a rock. She takes care of the ball and makes open shots, and then, they have those two Monday twins (6-A First Team All-District selection and 6-A Freshman of the Year Kaylie Monday and 6-A Second Team All-District honoree Kassie Monday). You can't put a price on their value. They're going to get 12 points, five assists and six steals every night. It's hard to put a value on that."

RBS opened the season with a pair of Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association Hall of Champions games on Tuesday, and the Lady Bulldogs will host Smith County and RePublic for two more Hall of Champions games on Saturday.

Red Boiling Springs opens district play on Dec. 4 with a contest at Pickett County.