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McKenzie leading an optimistic Springfield girls squad

MyNneshia McKenzie has one less thing on her plate now that she has committed to play basketball for Rider next season.

MyNneshia McKenzie has one less thing on her plate now that she has committed to play basketball for Rider next season.

She can fully concentrate on helping lead Springfield (Delaware County) to a campaign that will rival last season's, when the Cougars compiled a 23-4 record, tied for second in the Central League, finished second in the District 1 Class AAA playoffs, and reached the second round of the PIAA state tourney.

The 23-4 mark was the best in coach Kim Smith's six-year tenure. The Cougars, who lost to Mount St. Joseph in the district title game, were ousted from the state tourney by District 3 champ Trinity, 60-53.

The 6-foot McKenzie, without question one of the top girls' players in Southeastern Pennsylvania, averaged 13 points in leading Springfield as a junior. She believes the Cougars are capable of another strong showing.

"Most definitely," she said without hesitation. There's good reasons for that optimism, too. McKenzie knows that expectations of her are high but she said she's ready.

The Cougars had seven players graduate, but they welcome back two starters in addition to McKenzie.

Returning starters are senior guard Jen Hootmann and senior forward Shannon Burns. Smith also likes what she sees in freshman point guard Maddy McKnight.

"Hootmann is very athletic and a big perimeter [shooting] threat," said Smith, who has taken the Cougars to the state playoffs four times and reached the district semifinals twice.

McKenzie relishes the opportunity to lead the team one more time.

"Sure, I feel a lot of pressure but I'm kind of used to it," said McKenzie, who hopes that with some hard work she'll get plenty of time as a freshman at Rider, where she plans to study communications. "My job will be to get everybody into the flow."

Smith lists Lower Merion and Ridley among the teams to beat in the Central League.

"Ridley lost a boatload but they're always tough," Smith said. "There are new coaches at Ridley and Strath Haven, so it will be interesting."

McKenzie adds Radnor as another big team the Cougars will have to contend with in the Central League.

"They have Kelyn Freedman," she pointed out, referring to one of the area's leading scorers last season (19.1 points per game).

Under the Central League schedule for this season, the Cougars only meet Lower Merion and Conestoga once - along with Upper Darby, Haverford, and Garnet Valley - so every game becomes critical. Springfield hosts its own tournament tonight and tomorrow, facing Penn Wood in the opener, then opens league play against Harriton on Tuesday.