The Colo-NESCO girls’ basketball team aims to overcome the loss of one of the most prolific players in program history to maintain its spot atop the Iowa Star Conference South Division in 2019-20.


The Royals will be without all-state and unanimous all-Iowa Star Conference elite pick Faith Vincent as they try and win their eighth-straight ISC South Division championship.


Colo-NESCO went 9-0 in the South Division and 19-4 overall last season, but this year, they must replace the outstanding production of Vincent, who is the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers (177) and third-all-time scoring leader (1,116 points).


“Our biggest question mark is who’s going to help out with the ball handling and be able to knock down some 3s for us?” Colo-NESCO coach Wayne Cafferty said.


But all is not lost.


The Royals bring back Lauryn Hill, a lightning-quick and athletic guard, and versatile forward Rylee Purvis along with two experienced post players in Emma Stalzer and Gracie Kettwig. Seniors Emmy Hostetler and Megan Carlson and junior McKenzie Niemeyer also provide quality varsity experience.


Purvis and Hill will lead the way. Purvis was a unanimous all-ISC South Division first-team pick last year, and Hill landed on the second team.


The big question mark entering the season with those two is how fast they can heal. Purvis suffered a foot injury prior to the start of volleyball season and Hill is recovering from surgery to remove a cyst on her wrist.


“We’ve wrapped them both in bubble wrap and hope they can get through the season healthy,” Cafferty joked. “Both were able to start practice and had a good first night. We will need both of them to step up their production on the court and stay out of foul trouble.”


Purvis averaged 11.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals last season. She was also second on the team in 3-pointers behind Vincent with 40.


Hill put up 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.3 steals per game in 2018-19. She will be counted on as a primary ball-handler.


“Faith left very large shoes to fill, both on and off the court, so I’m trying to focus on stepping up to fill those shoes,” Hill said. “Since last year I’d been working on my shooting, then I was in a cast and now I’m trying to get back in the swing of everything. Personally, I want to improve my field-goal and free-throw percentages.”


Standing at 6-3, Stalzer gives Colo-NESCO an intimidating presence inside. She averaged 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds last season.


Kettwig provides a quicker presence inside. She put up 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last winter.


“Emma and Gracie are both working hard to improve and be power players down low,” Hill said.


Hostetler was a steady presence on the boards last year, averaging 4.8 rebounds, and she also scored 3.0 points per game. But she will have to wait a month to get back on the court after suffering a broken finger during the team’s first practice.


Carlson made 14 3-pointers and averaged 3.7 points in 2018-19.


“We need all of the seniors to step up their leadership in helping the underclassmen and doing what they can to help the team be successful,” Cafferty said.


Niemeyer averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds last season.


Also contending for varsity time this season will be juniors Ayvarie Bappe, Jenna Banks and Emma Wilson.


Even if Colo-NESCO isn’t as strong offensively this season, Cafferty expects his players to make up for it in other ways.


“I think we will be improved defensively,” Cafferty said. “Hopefully, a better rebounding team, too.”


The Royals held teams to an average of 40.4 points last season while also averaging 31.1 rebounds and 14.7 steals per game.


Collins-Maxwell figures to be the top challenger to Colo-NESCO’s throne in the ISC South Division this season. The Spartans bring back their two leading scores (Mikayla Houge and Reagan Franzen) from last year’s team that finished 15-6 overall and 8-2 in the conference.


Collins-Maxwell took the Royals to the wire during a Class 1A regional semifinal last year before falling on a last-second shot by Purvis, 42-40.


“Collins Maxwell returns some of their key players and improved a lot over the course of last season,” Cafferty said. “Plus they know how to compete.”


But Colo-NESCO still plans on being the team to beat in the South Division.


“I think we have lots of potential this season,” Hill said. “I’m super-excited to get games rolling and so is the rest of the team. I’m looking forward to seeing our team grow from now until March.”


Colo-NESCO opens the season next Friday against West Marshall at 7:30 p.m. in State Center.