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New-look Lady Patriots open season Monday

STANFORD — The Lincoln County High School girls basketball team is gearing up for another season and is looking to make a run for a sixth-straight 45th District Tournament title.

After losing most of the team’s starters and a winning senior class, head coach Cassandra McWhorter is having to fit many new pieces together for the 2019-20 season.

“It’s definitely a different team. We’ve got one starter back in Trinity (Shearer),” McWhorter said. “It’s hard sometimes when you’ve got dominant players like Emma King and Kaitlynn Wilks and Maddy Boyle. I mean, all you seniors that just left, Zaria (Napier) and Anna (Lane), and Trinity. It’s hard kind of preparing for a season when, year-in and year-out for the last three or four years, it’s been the same kids that are playing the bulk of your minutes.”

“We started back in the summer getting ready for this season and we’re still finding the parts and pieces to fit.”

Shearer, a guard, is the only starter returning from a team that finished 24-7 and saw its season end in a regional tourney loss to eventual state runner-up Southwestern. She averaged 6.7 points a game last season and three rebounds.

That search to find the right parts and pieces to fit around the lone starter is why, with the tipoff of the season just days away, McWhorter has yet to set her starting five.

“When people start asking about who your starting five is going to be, there is not a consistent five right now,” she said. “Right now we’re rotating. Trinity is our only returning starter but she’s got players around her that have played basketball for a long time. They just don’t have a lot of varsity experience. The talent’s there. The experience is going to come with experience and confidence as the season progresses.”

While there are several different players stepping into new roles this season, McWhorter finds a positive in the “different” team.

“One of the positive ways that they’re different is that they don’t care. They don’t care necessarily who gets the credit. They don’t care in the sense that I’m starting or I’m not starting. Deep down, I know every kid wants to start, every kid wants to play a lot of minutes. We talked about that after this scrimmage (Spencer County on Nov. 21),” she said. “Everybody’s got a role whether you’re in the game or not and a spot on this team and this program. It’s just being confident with that and okay with that.”

“They want to be successful and that’s key. They want to win. And I think they are starting to grasp, that on different nights, that could look different in a lot of ways. One night I could play a lot of minutes and another night it may be an off night for me and somebody else has just stepped up and things are clicking in a different defense or whatever. It might be that it might not be my night. I think they are starting to understand that. If they can stay upbeat and positive and okay with that. They can really do some special things this season.”

There are three seniors on the Lady Patriot roster this season. Joining Shearer are Hailee Reed, a forward/guard, and Lydia Rice, a forward.

Rounding out the 13-member varsity squad are: juniors – Katie Carmicle-Shields, a guard, Haleigh Releford, a guard, and Savannah Robbins, a forward; sophomores – Haleigh Ellison, a forward, Abby Lane, a guard, Ally Lynn, a guard, and Alyvia Taylor, a forward/guard; freshmen – Emily Estes, a center, and Chloe Ralston, a forward/guard; and eighth-grade – Talynne Shearer, a forward/guard.

When last year’s senior class left, many felt the team’s size and length went with it. However, McWhorter says length is still there.

“A lot of people thought we lost size and length, too. Which we are missing Kaitlynn in size with rebounding and things. We’re finding parts and people that’s helping picking up that slack. But our length is still there,” she said. “We’re still very long. Our wing spans … we’ve got some girls with really long wing spans like Savannah (Robbins), Haleigh (Releford), Lydia (Rice). Then you go on down and you’ve got Haleigh Ellison that has a long wing span and Chloe Ralston that’s a freshman that’s got really long length. And even some that don’t have the long wing span make up for it with speed and effort like a Hailee Reed or Ally Lynn and Abby Lane. Some of your shorter players are going to make up for it with grit and feistiness and aggressiveness.”

Another person helping pick up the slack is freshman Emily Estes.

“She’s young still but we’re finding ways to hopefully get her in the rhythm for more varsity. That will come with some more jv experience and consistency. But I’ve really been pleased preseason with how well she’s moving and working hard and continuing to kind of stand out,” McWhorter said.

The Lincoln girls won both their preseason scrimmages, defeating Walton-Verona by two points at Scott County and dominating Spencer County in a dominant win at home on Nov. 21. The Lady Patriots overcame an early double-digit deficit to earn the win over Spencer.

“We came out a little slow. We showed that some this summer,” McWhorter said. “Some games the balls weren’t going in the hole for us. We got some good shots early in the scrimmage tonight that weren’t falling necessarily and they were hitting some shots that they don’t necessarily hit. They were feeling it. I kind of let them play through it instead of calling a timeout, since it was a scrimmage, to see how they would respond or who would step up.”

“And they responded well. We calmed down. Our defense picked up the second quarter right before halftime which made a difference in our offensive production. That’s what we talked about at halftime. That consistency of bringing it on defense. Yes, the ball wasn’t going in the hole early but our defensive effort and intensity wasn’t there either the way it needed to be. Once we adjusted that a little bit and picked that end of the floor up it resulted in transition and our ability to knock down some shots.”

McWhorter attributed Lincoln’s slow start against Spencer to nerves.

“I think they were a little nervous, those that hadn’t played much varsity, playing at home for the first time. I heard them talking and there were some nerves,” she said. “Once they settled in, you could see the nervousness going away and them focusing on what they needed to be doing.”

The Lady Patriots will tipoff the new season Monday night, hosting South Laurel in their season-opener at 7:30 p.m.

McWhorter says the team is excited to get the season underway. She says the opening game will be a test.

“It will be a test of where we are because they are, in my opinion, a top five team in the state preseason,” she said. “If they’re not, they are for sure Top 10. They’ve got two players signed Division I. Ally Collett is going to play for Western Kentucky and Amerah Steele is going to Eastern. Then they’ve got another player going to Lindsey Wilson and I’ve heard they’ve  got some transfers.”

“It is a very, very high quality ball club that we are going to face. Our schedule is not for the light hearted, either. We’ve got a very tough schedule ahead of us but I think our girls are up to the challenge. We’ll have some wins I think some people won’t expect. We’re going to have games where we may get knocked down but I think we can knock anybody down, too. I believe in our kids. I’m excited to see how the season plays out.”