Girls Preview: Loaded Lady Pats open Nov. 30 at Rockcastle

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

STANFORD — When you go 24-7 overall and lose in the regional semifinals to the eventual state champion and that’s a disappointing season, you know just how good your team has become.

“Going into the season, I think, everybody in our community and the girls and the coaches, we all want to get back to where we were at last year and get over that hump of losing in that region semifinal,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said.

Coach McWhorter and her team have set a high standard, but the goal every year is to win the 45th District and 12th Region championships to reach the state tournament.

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This year will be no different with returning starters, seniors Maddy Boyle, Emma King, Zaria Napier and Kaitlynn Wilks and junior Trinity Shearer, playing lead roles in the pursuit of adding to the list of Lady Patriot championships.

“To take care of business and get a region championship is the ultimate goal for this team,” McWhorter said. “I’d say the expectations are high all around. The team, and I think really everybody in the community, after what they saw in that region semifinal game has those expectations for us.”

While region champ Mercer County graduated most of last year’s top players, McWhorter says Lincoln, while a loaded team, is not alone at the top in the region and is not a lock to take the region title.

“There’s other good teams in this region. It’s not just like we’re at the top because Mercer lost all their seniors and there’s nobody else. Mercer’s going to surprise people and still be good this year,” she said. “Southwestern has so many great players back and young and they have all the pieces to be a very top competitive team in our region. And Casey County has shooters and is guard-heavy and they were right there in the mix last year, too. It’s not like we’re the lone favorites and the only team with a target. There’s other good teams. To have that ultimate goal happen, we’ll have to play well.”

And what about having a target on their backs as one of the region’s top teams. Will that affect how the Lady Patriots perform this season?

“I don’t think so.” said McWhorter. “I think our girls know they have a target on their back. I think they’ve played for so long together that they’re used to getting everybody’s best shot. Whether we’ve been the top team in the region the last couple years or not, I think they know they’re going to have a target every time they go out, that we’re going to get everybody’s best game. I think some of them actually feed off of that. That they get up more or are more focused before a game, with more attention to detail or a scout plan for games when they know it’s going to be a game that’s very competitive.”

“I don’t see that as being a big factor with a target on our back or not . I could see it adding a little pressure, but I think I would rather have that pressure than just being under the radar.”

When it comes to handling pressure, it doesn’t hurt that Lincoln has all five starters returning along with other players with varsity experience. McWhorter has no complaints about that.

“It is (a dream). To have everybody back that we have, the class that we have with three early signing (Emma King – Kentucky, Kaitlynn Wilks – Trevecca University and Maddy Boyle – Kentucky Wesleyan) … I think Zaria (Napier) will get looks before the end of the year and Anna (Lane) has been on a lot of college visits and even talked to some coaches about jv basketball at the next level. You’ve got Trin (Trinity Shearer) in that junior class that has played with them all along the way. I couldn’t ask for a better group of young ladies to be back and to coach this year.”

King led Lincoln in scoring last season (20.6 ppg), shot 84.2 percent from the foul line and averaged 5 rebounds. Wilks led the Lady Patriots on the boards (8.7 rpg), averaged 14.5 points a game and shot 74.4 percent at the line. Boyle averaged 14.1 points, shot 84.8 percent at the foul line and averaged 2.6 rebounds. Napier averaged 6.5 points, shot 66.7 percent at the line and pulled down 6.4 rebounds per game. Shearer averaged 5.5 points a game and 4.5 rebounds. Lane, who rounds out Lincoln’s corps of seniors, averaged 3.5 points per game in a reserve role. Lydia Rice is the Lady Patriots other junior.

Eleven Lady Patriots return from last year’s team. Along with the seniors and juniors are sophomores Haleigh Releford and Savannah Robbins and freshmen Ally Lynn and Claudia Padgett.

“There are a lot of younger players that are stepping up and starting to mold with them as well. For us to do and accomplish what we want to do, we’re going to have to have a little more depth than what we had last year.”

McWhorter says the potential for added depth is there, but that it is still a work in progress.

“They are progressing. We’ve been keeping the teams kind of split in practice up until the last week or so just because it’s not so lopsided if we do starters vs. jv starting five,” she said. “I think that has helped to grow up some of those other ones. There’s still a lot of room for the next three or four, in my opinion, to step up and grow but I’m seeing it happen. It’s not going to happen overnight. Everybody talks about Calipari’s kids and they step in and, ‘Oh, they’re so good!’ But they’re kids. Some of our younger ones are just that, they still need time and experience to mature. I think as the season progresses and they continue to get more experience that they will be ready.”

“I have room for three slots (on varsity roster) I’m kind of waiting to see who those three are who are going to step up and say, ‘Hey, I want that spot.’ Or it could just be a rotating thing for those three spots.”

With 11 of the Lady Patriots’ current 12-member varsity roster all returning players (only newcomer is freshman Abby Lane), one might think that the squad hasn’t missed a beat from last season. McWhorter says that isn’t necessarily true.

“Every season I think you take a couple steps back and you kind of regroup and refresh and then by February and March you’re in sync again where you need to be,” she said. “I feel like we’re not where we’re supposed to be yet. We were playing a very high level at the end of the year last year. We had a good summer. I think the girls have come into this season very focused. Preseason conditioning, weightlifting, whatever we’ve done, they’ve been doing it at a very high level. As far as on the floor, X’s and O’s, are we as polished as we should be? Maybe, maybe not. We won’t know until we start playing those first few games. We’ll see exactly where we’re at then and where we’re standing. It is a progress.”

When it comes to assessing her team, McWhorter says there’s been a few surprises among her younger players.

“There’s been some that do things that stand out and it’s just like, ‘Wow! They could step in and be a missing link.’ because on any given night …. You don’t know who will stand out,” she said. “You’ve got five seniors and Trinity and Lydia Rice, as juniors, and then you drop to that sophomore class. Like sophomore Haleigh Releford with her length and size. Since the start of school she’s grown tons. She gives a lot of deflections on defense. She has the capability of knocking down the 3. With some of those older ones drawing so much attention, I’d like to see her play a little bit more role this year in the season and more time. There’s other areas of her game she’s got to work on and improve but she’s being very coachable in working on those. And Savannah Robbins’ length also. We’re not very short. Even though I lose those seniors next year, we have some really good size coming up. Savannah is long and athletic. She does a lot of the little things well, like boxing out, and her shot’s improved.”

“Claudia Padgett is one that has really, I won’t say surprised me because I knew what she was capable of last year, but she’s working hard,” added McWhorter. “As far as inside presence, because Kaitlynn is such a dominant factor inside … she beats and bangs with Kaitlynn every day and it’s making her better every day. I could see her also playing a big role if Kaitlynn was to get in foul trouble.”

The high school players weren’t the only ones earning praise from McWhorter.

“You’ve got other kids that are doing things well, they’ve just got to improve some of their skills as well. Even dropping all the way down into your middle school class, Chloe Ralston is so long and tall and Talynne (Shearer) is just a seventh-grader this year but she’s got Trinity almost already topped with her height. There’s some exciting pieces on down after that senior class. It’s just going to be a progression of growing them up, maturing them and getting them ready to help us,” she said.

With the start of the 2018-19 season just nine days away, the Lady Patriots have locked in on working on any imperfections in their game. McWhorter says they are doing just that by turning their attention to defense.

“After having one scrimmage under our belt, we have focused a lot on the defensive end of the game. Not because our defense was just so poor, but because we have so many scorers and I know that we’re going to have nights that the ball just doesn’t fall in the hole,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of those nights happening very often. We focus a lot on offense but lately, after the scrimmage, we’ve really tuned into defense. We can’t be content with just scoring more points, whether it’s just two more or whatever. I call it flip-flopping baskets with another team. I want us to really take pride in our defensive end of the game.”

“I think that may be areas all across the board, starting with the seniors all the way down, there’s always areas for improvement in our defensive game, whether that’s being down in a stance and being ready, being off to the ball where I should be, having a hand in the passing lane, boxing out after a shot goes up. Whatever it is, we need to improve those little things so we can take pride in stopping other people from scoring and then let the offensive side of the ball take care of itself.”

With the first game of the season with Rockcastle just days away, how does McWhorter feel about the opener?

“I feel good just because I know the girls I have in that locker room and what they’re capable of,” she said. “It does make me a little nervous to play Rockcastle the first game just because I know what a great coach Coach (Chrysti) Noble is and she’s got some good young kids that have worked and improved over the summer just like my girls have.”

“It makes me a little nervous just because you get nervous with the first game and you want to see where we are and how we look, but I like our chances and I’m looking forward to the season.”