McWhorter optimistic about strong returning nucleus; lack of depth a concern

Published 1:29 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2017

STANFORD — Last year was a special season for the Lincoln County High School girls basketball team.

Not only did the Lady Patriots finish 23-9 overall and win their ninth 45thDistrict title in the last 10 years, but they also finished as 12thRegion runner-up to eventual KHSAA state champion Mercer County.

Repeating that success in 2017-18 may come with its challenges.

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Lincoln returns eight players, including a strong nucleus of five juniors, and the squad has good size and quickness, but the Lady Patriots lack depth. How eighth-year coach Cassandra McWhorter uses each player will be key to the team’s success this year.

“This is, honestly, the first team I’ve probably felt like I’m not as deep in my bench,” McWhorter said. “Normally, I’ve felt like I could go eight or nine deep with teams I’ve had and not necessarily drop or lose very much. I’m not saying the ones sitting on the bench this year are going to drop a lot, but to have that consistent where I want to be level, I’m only thinking about six right now.”

“We’re going to need depth in case a player gets in foul trouble or there’s an injury or somebody is sick. There are big gaps,” she said.

That lack of depth hasn’t stopped the Lady Patriots from anticipating besting the previous season, however, with talk of topping 2016-17 circulating in the confines of the gym.

“I’ve heard that a few times, especially like when we’ve been in the weight room preseason before practices even started,” McWhorter said. “They’re pushing each other and challenging each other. I guess there’s a little bittersweet taste in their mouth. There’s a sore spot there that you get so close that you play a good game and you fall short. They are anxious. They are hungry.”

McWhorter, herself hoping for another successful season, does her best to corral the team’s emotions.

“They are already thinking ahead and are anxious for March and I’m trying to get them to not look that far ahead,” she said. “I said, ‘Girls, we’ve not even played the first game. We’ve got to take it day by day, game by game.’ Ultimately you want to have a winning season and a great record when it comes to the end of the season and tournament time, but what you really want is for them to keep building and keep climbing so they are ready to go come tournament time.”

Graduation claimed part of Lincoln’s depth from last year with seniors Logan Godbey and Jenna King making their exit, then Haley Southerland, who would be a junior, left a big hole in the Lady Pat lineup when she moved to Russell County.

Despite a lack of depth, McWhorter still has a talented nucleus around which to build her team.

“Coming back we have a very strong corps, junior class (Maddy Boyle, Emma King, Anna Lane, Zaria Napier, Kaitlynn Wilks). We have two seniors who are passionate and who are stepping up in practice and doing little things off the floor being leaders in Courtney Snow and Chey Releford,” McWhorter said. “You have Emma, who is your leading scorer last year and already verbally committed to UK, and you have Kaitlynn, your second leading scorer, who has several offers on the table. She almost averaged a double-double last year. You’ve got Maddy who is a very experienced varsity player now with a solid year under her belt starting last year. Trinity Shearer, who kind of got her feet wet last year. After the Halls (Cristin and Caitlin) graduated, she got a lot more game time last year. You’ve got Zaria Napier who is finally healthy again. She was playing good basketball last year up until her knee injury. She’s confident and playing really well. And there’s Anna Lane, then you’ve got your two seniors and Lydia Rice and Hailee Barnes who are sophomores.”

King led the team in scoring last year, averaging 17.9 points per game. She shot 81.9 percent at the foul line. She also averaged 4.5 rebounds a game. Wilks averaged 13.6 points per game and led the team in rebounds with 8.6 per game.

It comes as no surprise that McWhorter’s starting five for the 2017-18 season opener are pulled from her corps of returning players, including returning starters Boyle, King and Wilks.

“Right now I’m starting Trin, Maddy, Emma, Z and Kait,” she said. “Maddy and Trinity are kind of sharing the point guard responsibilities. I know Maddy has kind of always been assumed as point guard role, but she right now, summer and scrimmage and in practices is probably one of our most consistent outside shooters from the arc. And Trinity really pushes the ball the way that I like for her to and sees the floor really well, not that Maddy doesn’t, but Trinity sees the floor really well. We seem to get more point production when we get the ball initially in Trinity’s hands to push and let Maddy run a wing. It gives more of a scoring threat from the wing so people won’t just key on Emma only on the wing.”

Boyle averaged 9.3 points per game as a sophomore, averaging 43.7 percent shooting. Napier averaged 3.3 points per game and 3.3 rebounds, and Shearer averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds.

“They (starters) will be interchangeable. It will depend on game situations,” added McWhorter. “Anna’s going to come off the bench and be the sixth man. Not to say that she couldn’t work herself into the starting lineup if somebody slacks off or is not producing. I really want to give them a chance Courtney and Chey, even though they didn’t dress varsity last year. They are both working really hard in practice. As seniors, you definitely give them an early shot in the year, give them some minutes to prove to you, ‘Hey I need to be on the floor some more’ or not.’”

McWhorter said Rice and Barnes, both sophomores, had quality time in the team’s scrimmage win over Louisville Manual and that she also wants to give them a chance to play.

While depth is a concern for the Lady Patriots, size and speed are not.

“Trinity’s grown. At her physical, she measured 5-10. Emma is 5-11. Zaria’s grown and is getting close to Kaitlynn. Kaitlynn’s grown. She’s 6-0 now,” McWhorter said. “Our length this year is really, really going to help us. And we’re pretty fast. I want to get up and down the floor, which we’ve really been working on making sure that we’re in tip-top shape. We’re still getting there to where we need to be for game shape to play at a fast pace because we have speed and we have length.  We’ve been trying to work on trying to use that length to create turnovers and produce offense out of our defense.”

Speed and length are just two of Lincoln’s strengths on the hardwood. According to McWhorter, she has to put a big checkmark beside strong scoring potential as well.

“Probably one of the biggest areas, too, is the fact that we have capable scorers all the way around,” she said “A lot of high school teams, I look at a lot of programs and they have one or two kids that they really rely on night in and night out to really produce. I look at this team and there are several kids that can get double figures any night. That scoring can come from a lot of areas.” 

And don’t forget team chemistry. 

“They honestly care about each other. They have their moments where they pick at each other or have sister issues but I think that happens with a lot of teams. They spend a lot of time together and they really do care about each other  and that showed Saturday in our scrimmage,” McWhorter said. “They played so unselfish. Not one time did it look like they cared who scored, or who did what as long as we were being successful.”
McWhorter shared team strengths, so, in addition to lack of depth, what else is a concern for the Lincoln mentor heading into the season?

“From practices, it is our man-to-man,” she said. “That’s probably just me being critical as a coach. It’s probably not as bad as I think it is. We’ve got to get better defending people and not just letting them get to the rim so easy. I want to see our girls really step up and take ownership in who they are guarding and not getting beat off the dribble and let their person get to the rim or rely on help defense.”

The Lady Patriots have just a few more days to work on honing their man-to-man defense with the season opener set for Monday night, Nov. 27, at home as they host Pulaski County. Are McWhorter and the Lady Pats ready for Monday’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

“I don’t think a coach ever feels ready. I think I say that every year, but I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” said McWhorter. “I feel ready for that first game. The kids are ready. They are tired of practice. They are tired of going up against each other and beating up on each other. We’ve already had one scrimmage and that went really well. Going into it you don’t know what to expect, but I know what my team is capable of and I know what they can produce. I think their preparation has been great. They have been working very, very hard and I’m very proud of them. They’ve been very focused and working very hard and are holding each other accountable with little things in practice and encouraging each other. And I think that preparation really showed out in how we played last Saturday against Manual (30-point win)”

2017-18 Lady Patriot Varsity
No. Name Grade
2 Maddy Boyle Jr.
3 Anna Lane Jr.
10 Courtney Snow Sr.
11 Kaitlynn Wilks Jr.
14 Trinity Shearer Soph.
23 Zaria Napier Jr.
24 Hailee Barnes Soph.
32  Cheyenne Releford Sr.
34 Emma King Jr.
43 Lydia Rice  Soph.
Freshmen – Bailee Baldwin, Suzan Johnson, Baleigh Reardon, Shayley Reed, Haleigh Releford, Savannah Robbins, Katie Shields
8th Grade – Haleigh Ellison, Abby Lane, Ally Lynn, Claudia Padgett, Kelby Petrey, Alyvia Taylor
7th Grade – Chloee Dunn, Chloe Ralston 

Head Coach: Cassandra McWhorter
Assistant Coaches: Darin Lane, Shakelia Miller, Rebecca Shearer
Managers: Meredith Dennis, Kennedy Kirkpatrick