GREENFIELD — With high school girls basketball officially starting this week, it’s time to get back to the courts and highlight some of the key area players to watch and the games Hancock County hoops fans can’t miss this season.

Mt. Vernon looks to avenge a postseason loss to Richmond last season after sneaking past Greenfield-Central in the sectional opener. The Cougars return three starters, however, and are primed for an exciting postseason run of their own.

New Palestine will start four seniors and a junior, giving the Dragons plenty of experience after a 12-12 2014 campaign. Eastern Hancock finds itself in a similar position, returning five of its top six scorers while losing only one player from last season.

The Marauders opened its season yesterday at Franklin while New Palestine hosts Connersville Thursday. The Cougars and Royals will play Saturday at Whiteland and Hagerstown, respectively.

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Five Players to Watch

Sydney Shelton, Senior guard, Mt. Vernon

This is an obvious pick with Shelton leading the county in scoring last season (22.5). The senior announced last month she would attend Butler University rather than Kentucky and wants to make a good impression on the near-by Division-I program in her final season with the Marauders. In 2014, she also averaged 3.5 rpg, 3.4 apg and 2.3 spg while shooting 41 percent from deep (63-for-153). Shelton can score from anywhere on the court and uses her quickness to her advantage when defenders are playing too tight.

Madison Wise, junior forward, Greenfield-Central

Wise might be the most interesting player in Hancock County with her unique ability to effect the game in multiple ways. She dominated the boards last season averaging 12.2 rpg (8.9 defensive). Wise can put the ball in the basket, as well, contributing 19.0 ppg in 2014 while shooting 61 percent from inside the arc. She also hit 12 3-pointers. With her athleticism, Wise is one of the few players in the area who can take the ball from end to end with ease. Defensively, she averaged 2.8 spg and 3.5 bpg in 2014.

Ariana Sandefur, senior guard, Mt. Vernon

Sandefur can flat-out shoot the basketball, connecting on 55 three-point field goals last season in a Robin role to Shelton’s Batman. She hit four or more 3-pointers in five games in 2014, including 8 of 10 against Martinsville for a season-high 31 points. Shooters can be a nightmare for opposing coaches and can change the game in the blink of an eye. Sandefur also chipped in 27 points in a win against Shelbyville.

Katie Helgason, junior guard, Greenfield-Central

Helgason may be the most important piece to a Cougar team looking to make the most of its talented roster and win its first sectional title since 2004. Last season, she averaged 10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 3.4 apg as Greenfield-Central’s second leading scorer. Teams will key on Wise in the post and Helgason’s ability to shoot from the outside will prove valuable to the team’s success. She knocked down a team-high 39 3-point field goals last season (44 percent). Also a soccer player, Helgason’s energy will be highly influential for a team with a top-15 schedule in the state.

Emiley Carlton, senior forward, Eastern Hancock

Carlton had 17 or more points (13.2 per game) in eight games last season for the 13-10 Royals. A new coach is in town in Shari Doud, who is 199-86 in 13 seasons as a head coach with stops Greenfield-Central and Pendleton Heights (11 seasons). Carlton also averaged 5.8 rpg and 2.8 spg for Eastern Hancock in 2014, which plays a tough schedule against several teams that are either ranked or receiving votes in the various preseason polls. She had a season-high 23 points last season against Cambridge City Lincoln on Jan. 5.

Others to watch: New Palestine _ Raegan McMurry, Natalie Kehrt, Haley Stratman. Mt. Vernon _ Sadie Baugh, Hanna Johnson. Eastern Hancock _ Kaysi Gilbert, Shelby King. Greenfield-Central _ Savannah Girolami, Jessica Farrell.

Five games you can’t miss

No. 18 Mt. Vernon at Greenfield-Central (Jan. 22)

This list was really hard to make given the talent in the area and solid schedules each program has compiled. Obviously, each Hancock County matchup is great but none will be better than a rematch of last year’s sectional opener featuring two teams receiving votes in Class 4A, with the Marauders opening the season ranked No. 18 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Poll. The Cougars, however, are receiving votes in the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association Poll. With the county’s top two scorers in Wise and Shelton back, this game will be another one for the books.

Greenfield-Central at No. 17 Hamilton Southeastern (Dec. 5)

The Cougars would make a big statement with a win against the Royals after a 55-48 loss in 2014. Hamilton Southeastern returns three starters from its team that finished 16-7 last season including junior Bre Lloyd (15.9 ppg). Wise chipped in 16 points in last year’s loss.

No. 18 Mt. Vernon vs. East Central (Nov. 21)

East Central returns two of its top four scorers from its 2014 team that finished 21-4 and ranked in the top 20 of Class 4A. The Trojans are receiving votes in the preseason poll and should present the state-ranked Marauders a solid early test. The two teams did not play last season.

New Palestine vs. Eastern Hancock

Although there might be a few other games featuring a county school against a ranked opponent, this matchup between two county rivals should be another battle. In 2014, the Dragons edged the Royals 38-37 with much of the same players returning for each team. Will Eastern Hancock get its revenge?

Knightstown at Eastern Hancock (Dec. 18)

These two schools located just miles apart always look forward to playing one another no matter what each roster looks like that particular season. The Royals will be fine with a bulk of its scoring back from last season. However, the Panthers did prevail 65-63 in 2014 and return their leading scorer, senior Brooke Vise (14 pgg, 8.7 rpg), from a team that finished 14-9.

Notables: New Palestine vs. Greenfield-Central (Dec. 11), Eastern Hancock at 2A No. 1 Triton Central (Jan. 16), Eastern Hancock vs. 2A No. 8 Shenandoah, 4A No. 18 Mt. Vernon vs. New Palestine (Dec. 15).

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.