By The Telegram

Class 1A state champions in 2008. Class 1A state runners-up in 2009. A 54-2 record over the past two seasons. Four returning starters and seven of the top eight players are back.

Yes, expectations are high for the South Gray Lady Runnin' Rebels.

That's what first-year coach Andy Gillen, who moves from Ulysses, inherits from Tasha Trundle, who suddenly resigned after last season was completed.

One thing is for sure, the Lady Rebels are loaded and should once again contend for Class 1A state honors.

They are led by a pair of seniors, 5-foot-11 forward/guard Kayla Thomas and 5-9 guard Brigit Hesser, along with 5-7 junior point guard Mikayla Skidmore and 5-10 sophomore forward Hannah Thomas.

Kayla Thomas was The Telegram's All-Area Player of the Year as a junior after averaging 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals per game. Hesser joined Thomas on The Telegram's all-area first team while averaging a team-high 16 points to go with four rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Skidmore was the third ringleader for the Lady Rebels by averaging 15 points, three assists, three steals and three rebounds. Hannah Thomas finished her freshman campaign with averages of six points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal.

One of the other three returners 5-9 senior Bayli Zehr, 5-5 senior Shaelyn Kisner or 5-8 junior Cori Watts will figure into the starting lineup for Gillen.

"We return the core of our team and we believe we have a chance to be a good team," Gillen said. "We have the potential to be in the mix at the end of the season."

And rightly so. Having been ranked No. 1 in Class 1A for most of last season, the Lady Rebels will be right back up there this season and will enter the campaign as The Telegram's top-ranked girls team in the area.

Expectations are understandably high for this year's Lady Rebels.

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Mark Applegate enters his 28th season of coaching with a career record of 455-188 (.700 percentage) and his South Gray Rebels will once again be contending in Class 1A.

After going 24-2 a year ago, losing in the first round of the Class 1A state tournament, Applegate welcomes back a group that includes one of the top point guards in western Kansas senior Chase Clancy.

All the 6-0 Clancy did as a junior was average 22 points, four assists and three rebounds a game and was selected to The Telegram's All-Area first team, the lone underclassmen to be recognized.

"Our seniors will have to step up and take over the leadership roles that we lost to graduation," Applegate said. "They were some very good ones and we will have to find some defensive quickness as well."

Gone from that squad that had also won two state championships in their underclassmen seasons are Weston Koehn, Chet Skinner and Bobby Smith. Skinner and Smith were the guards that provided Clancy opportunities to focus on his offensive skills.

But returning for Applegate will be senior forward Bligh Schulte (10 points, six rebounds), senior guard Ricky Friesen (eight points, four rebounds, two assists), and junior forward Austin Love (seven points, five rebounds).

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South Gray Lady Runnin' Rebels

Class: 1A

League: SPIAA

Coach: Andy Gillen (1st year)

2008-2009 Record: 27-1

Returning Starters: Brigit Hesser (5-9, Sr., G); Mikayla Skidmore (5-7, Jr., G); Kayla Thomas (5-11, Sr., F); Hannah Thomas (5-10, So., F)

Other top returners: Bayli Zehr (5-9, Sr., F); Shaelyn Kisner (5-5, Sr., G); Cori Watts (5-8, Jr., F)

South Gray Rebels

Class: 1A

League: SPIAA

Coach: Mark Applegate (28th year, 455-188)

2008-2009 Record: 24-2

Returning Starters: Chase Clancy (6-0, Sr., G); Bligh Schulte (6-2, Sr., F).

Other top returners: Ricky Friesen (6-0, Sr., G); Austin Love (6-2, Jr., F); Garrison Hendricks (Jr., G); Storm Mosher (So., G); Garret Watkins (So., G).