Lady Patriots’ depth creates puzzle for McWhorter
STANFORD — The 2016-17 Lincoln County High School girls basketball team opens its season Monday and Lady Patriot coach Cassandra McWhorter is confused.
The source of McWhorter’s perplexed state: a bounty of experienced returning players.
“Honestly, I have so much depth right now that my hardest job is finding who I need to put on the floor with who,” said McWhorter, who is in her seventh year as Lady Pat coach.
Regardless of Lincoln’s lineup configuration, the team appears equipped to play the winning brand of basketball that has helped the Lady Patriots win five 45th District championships, two 12th Region championships and make two Sweet 16 appearances, including a Final Four run, under McWhorter.
While graduation claimed five seniors and two starters, the Lincoln mentor had a strong nucleus to work with in putting together her latest squad with returning starters Emma King, Kaitlynn Wilks and Jenna King all back along with Logan Godbey, who also saw some starts last season.
“We got back four really experienced players,” said McWhorter. “You get back your two leading scorers in Emma and Kaitlynn and you get back two seniors who are really fired up for their senior season and who both shared starting roles on and off throughout the year in Jenna and Logan.”
Sophomores Emma King and Wilks led Lincoln in both scoring and rebounding last year, with King averaging 15.2 points per game and 5.5 rebounds in her freshman season and Wilks averaging 13 points per game and 5.7 rebounds.
“Even though they are just sophomores and they are young, they have a lot of experience and have played a lot of ball. They are getting a lot of attention,” McWhorter said. “And we’re going to have other people be able to step up this year and give us some big roles, too, falling in probably behind those four.”
But McWhorter, who is 139-52 at Lincoln, still hesitates to name her starters.
“As of now they (the Kings, Wilks, Godbey) will be four of our five starters in my mind. But I don’t like to say we have set starters because at any time the girls can prove themselves otherwise because we do have a really strong sophomore class that every day is getting better in practice and showing me a lot,” she said.
Catching the attention of McWhorter and her staff are sophomores Maddy Boyle, Zaria Napier, Haley Southerland and Anna Lane as well as freshman Trinity Shearer.
“Kids like Maddy came in last year and gave us a huge lift. The Wayne County game at Wayne County last year sticks out in my mind. She doesn’t come in and score the way she does, we probably don’t win that game,” McWhorter said. “Zaria came in and gave us big minutes. She had a good summer. She’s rebounding and scoring a lot more. Haley Southerland, length and ability to score. She’s athletic. She gives you a lot of offensive rebounds. Just brings a lot of high intensity. Trinity is going to come in and do a lot of ball handling for us. She sees the floor really well, passes really well. Anna comes in and gives great defensive intensity. She gets her hands on a lot of things. We just have a really strong group of nine to 10 kids that we can rotate, that we can play. It’s nice to have that depth.”
The Lady Patriots welcome two new players to their varsity roster, with freshmen Hailee Barnes and Lydia Rice rounding out the team.
Lincoln is coming off a 27-7 season where the team captured its seventh district title in eight seasons and finished as region runner-up to Mercer County. McWhorter says the team has followed up the winning season with a successful summer and is ready for another title shot.
“Any time you can make it to the region championship, you’ve had a great season, but you want to be on that other end of it and win the region and go to state and play in the state tournament. And our kids are hungry,” she said. “They know that they aren’t going to be able to walk into the region championship again this year. We’ve got a tough region. We’ve got a tough district. The girls know that they are going to have to work really hard, but they want another shot at that championship and they want another look at getting a chance to go to the state tournament and play.”
With Lincoln’s depth and the team’s chemistry, McWhorter is feeling confident in the Lady Patriots’ ability to challenge for a region championship.
“I think one of the keys to our success this year, and every year, is always your chemistry. I think it could be easy with a team that has the depth that we have for people to get hung up on themselves or make it more individual or about themselves. But that’s what I love about our girls. They care about one another,” she said. “I feel like these girls are a lot similar to the two teams that went back-to-back (state tournament), where they truly care about one another. They want to succeed. You know, everybody likes to score their points, everybody likes to see their name in the newspaper, everybody likes attention. But they are willing to put aside individual attention for the team success.”
Lady Patriot faithful should be prepared for some fast-paced action on the hardwood this season, with McWhorter wanted to play up-tempo. And it’s that quicker game that is a cause for concern.
“Probably one of our weaknesses right now is how we handle the ball. We’re going to be a lot faster this year because I do want us to play an up-tempo type pace. But, in the same return, you’re going to have turnovers when you play that way,” she said. “We need to make sure that we limit the ones that we can control and not have a high number of turnovers every game. That’s one thing I see right now in practice is that we’re turning the ball over a lot. We want to be able to cut that down as we get closer to game time.”
And game time is just about here. Tipoff to the season is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday night at Pulaski County and McWhorter feels the team is ready.
“We’re tired of beating up on each other,” she said. “We’ve still got things we need to work on that we’ve not got to cover, but these girls have played a lot of ball. Come game time we can make adjustments as we go. They are going to make some inexperience things early in the season, I think a few of them will, but as the season goes those sophomores are going to be playing like juniors and my seniors are going to be playing like they’re going to college.”
Should fans be getting prepared to watch their Lady Patriots play for the region championship in March?
“We want to take care of business night in and night out first. Take one day at a time,” said McWhorter. “We don’t want to get looking too far ahead, but in the back of everyone’s mind they want another chance to get to that championship game and get a different outcome.”