Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Holtville’s Brady White (5) dribbles past Elmore County’s Cole Boothe.

In each of the last two seasons, Holtville has not seen either of its varsity basketball teams reach the postseason beyond the area tournament. However, with the Bulldogs making the move to Class 5A this season, they are joining a new area and both teams are hoping to become more competitive while expectations for a state playoff appearance are rising.

The boys program has spent the last two seasons having to compete with BTW and Handley in its area, two teams who have become regulars in the regional round. Holtville will still have to deal with rival Elmore County as the two teams will join Marbury and Jemison in 5A Area 6 and the Bulldogs believe they have a better shot at moving one step further in the playoffs this year.

“We went up in classification but now it’s a much more competitive area,” Holtville boys coach Michael Collins said. “We’ll just have to see how it goes but it’s not like we have to win a game they make a movie about to win the area. I think anyone in that area knows for sure how it will go. Anyone can beat anybody on any given night so I think it will be fun.”

While the competition may be different, Holtville still wants to stick with a similar game plan that gave it so much success last year.

“We want to play good, sound fundamental basketball,” Collins said. “I think sometimes people will underestimate us when we walk out on the court and they can do that at their own detriment. We don’t have any superstar that can go out and give us 40 points but we’re going to work together. We just want to work on being better than we were.”

Holtville will have to replace three starters from last season but it still has plenty of players with experience. One of the key pieces to last year’s team was Braxton Buck who led the team with 13.2 points per game and Collins said the team will continue to look at Buck to be the go-to scorer this season.

“That’s what we always try to do,” Collins said. “We were able to get him open quite a bit but if they do something like a box-and-one or something like that, it makes it more difficult to get him open. But he’s not a selfish player and he knows that will open up something for other players. Everyone looks at him as a shooter but he’s so much more than that.”

Richie Hicks will be back and is expected to see his role grow even more on both ends of the court after stuffing the stat sheet with 7.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game last season. Hicks will once again be a key facilitator in the team’s offense but Brady White is expected to run the show as he moves into the starting point guard role after recording 4.2 assists per game as the backup last year.

“He played that one spot as much as Jackson (Hand) did last year,” Collins said. “He’s a phenomenal captain on the floor on defense as well as offense. He’s a great communicator and I think he’s going to be a big help this season.”

Mikey Forney and Luc Cyr will take most of the minutes in the post for the Bulldogs while John Williamson and Dalton Yarroch are expected to be the first guards off the bench.

Holtville’s girls team is still working on making a name for itself and while it still struggled to be competitive in some games last season, the Bulldogs have clearly made progress. Last year’s lone win ended the program’s 56-game losing streak and there are high hopes of putting a few more games in the win column this season.

“We are returning a good bit of girls so hopefully with that experience we can put some success on the court,” Holtville girls coach Jason Franklin said. “The more experience they get, the better they will get… Our goal is to go out and compete. We want to compete in the area and put ourselves in good position for the area tournament at the end of the year.”

The Bulldogs have four starters returning including point guard Summer Hutcheson. After leading the team in scoring in the first season, Hutcheson is expected to take the next step with an extra year of experience under her belt.

“It’s going to be about making good decisions and not turning the ball over too much,” Franklin said. “She has to make good passes and not always take the quick shot. We want to work the offense and open it up for a high-percentage shot.”

Holtville wants to have a more patient offense this season and will look to get the ball inside the paint to up its scoring average as a team. Part of that also comes from the improvement Franklin has seen with post players, specifically forward Rylee Helus.

Kelsey Franklin and Ashanti Gray are also expected to return to their starting roles while Ana Segarra and Emma Foster will take up minutes in the backcourt. Franklin said he expects to run 10 players deep in most games with many of them getting a large share of the minutes.

“It’s just about finding the pieces to the puzzle and putting that together each week,” Franklin said. “Now that they know what each other will do on the court from working together and playing together, it makes life a lot easier... It’ just about the comradery and the fun with this bunch because they get along and have a good time.”

Holtville gets the season started Monday night with home games against Alabama Christian. While area games do not get started until next month, the teams are just focused on getting better and cherishing the games they do get to play in the meantime.

“Every game we get to play is a bonus,” Franklin said. “We want to go in and prepare like this could be the only one we get. We want to get better every day that we do get to play.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.