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AYER — Last year, the young Ayer girls basketball team laid the foundation for future success. They finished with nine wins, one shy of securing a post-season berth.

The Lady Panthers have a number of familiar faces returning and appear primed to take the next step. Spurred on by their close call, the Lady Panthers look like a solid bet for a District berth this time around.

“We have a very positive, highly motivated group of girls,” said Ayer coach Joe Scunziano. “This core group has played together for a number of years. Our goal is to make the Districts, and to win once we get there. I think that is a reasonable goal.”

Lost to graduation were frontcourt players Julie Scunziano and Shannon Schwartz, but Ayer returns three starters from last season in junior guard Cathy Comerford, sophomore guard Sarah Megan, and senior forward Kim Farrington.

“Cathy led the team in scoring last year and she can play either guard position,” said Scunziano. “She is a pure scorer and is the hardest worker on the team. She works hard to improve and is our go-to person.

“Sarah has great speed and has improved her ballhandling,” said Scunziano. “She is a shooter with range and is a major offensive option for us. Sarah has great court savvy, sees the court well and she is a nice complement to Cathy.

“Kim is quick, athletic and experienced and she led the league in rebounding last season,” said Scunziano. “She pounds the boards at both ends of the court and she is working on her finishing. Kim works hard and is a great leader.”

Comerford and Farrington are captains, along with senior Shawnda Shaffer, who will start at small forward.

“Shawnda came off the bench last season, but she is improved and has more experience,” said Scunziano. “She provides leadership both on and off the court and she is a smart player and a calming influence.”

The starting center will be sophomore Brynnan Farrington, who came off the bench last season.

“Brynnan is a strong post player with a soft touch,” said Scunziano. “She is a good rebounder and was our most improved player over the course of last season.”

Sophomore center Amanda Shaughnessy will be the first player off the bench.

“Amanda is a good offensive player with solid post moves,” said Scunziano. “She is working her way back from injuries but she has a nice mid-range shot.”

Making strong pushes for signficant playing time are junior point guard Gina Gibson, sophomore point guard Katie Poitras and freshman guard Allison Fillebrown.

“Gina is strong, athletic and quick and takes the ball to the basket well,” said Scunziano. She is a solid defensive player and should get some valuable minutes. Katie will start in certain matchups and is a great defensive player who distributes the ball well. Allison can play either shooting guard or small forward and she is a pure shooter with range. Her ballhandling is improved and she plays solid defense. She just needs to gain experience at this level.”

Looking to create a niche will be junior forward Kelsey McCallen, sophomore forward Lauren Johnston, and sophomore forward Sabrina Schwartz.

What are the Lady Panthers’ strengths entering the season?

“I like our depth at guard, the quickness we have and our strong post players,” said Scunziano. “We are young, but experienced and I really like the chemistry on the team. We need to stay healthy and our goal is to be a really good defensive team with lots of pressure on the ball. I want our defense to convert into points through transition. I think that coming so close last season has created an incentive for this season.”