STANFORD — The Lincoln County High School girls’ basketball team is gearing up for another season and looking to chase a sixth straight 45th District Tournament title.
After losing most of the team’s starters and a winning senior class, head coach Cassandra McWhorter must put together many new pieces for the 2019-20 season.
“It’s definitely a different team. We have a starter in Trinity (Shearer),” McWhorter said. “It’s hard sometimes when you have dominant players like Emma King and Kaitlynn Wilks and Maddy Boyle. I mean, all you seniors who just left, Zaria (Napier) and Anna (Lane), and Trinity. It’s hard to prepare for a season where, year after year for the past three or four years, it’s been the same kids playing most of your minutes.
“We started this summer to prepare for this season and we are still looking for the parts and the parts to fit.”
Shearer, a guard, is the lone starter returning from a team that finished 24-7 and saw its season end in a regional tournament loss to eventual runner-up Southwest State. She averaged 6.7 points per game last season and three rebounds.
This search to find the right parts and parts to fit the sole starter is why, with the start of the season just days away, McWhorter has yet to set his starting five.
“When people start asking who your starting five will be, there’s no consistent five right now,” she said. “Right now, we are filming. Trinity is our only returning starter, but she has players around her who have been playing basketball for a long time. They just don’t have a lot of college experience. The talent is there. Experience will come with experience and confidence as the season progresses.
Although several different players are stepping into new roles this season, McWhorter finds a silver lining in the “different” team.
“One of the positive ways they’re different is that they don’t care. They don’t necessarily care who gets the credit. They don’t care in the sense that I start or I don’t start. Deep down I know that every child wants to start, every child wants to play a lot of minutes. We talked about it after that scrimmage (Spencer County Nov. 21),” she said. “Everyone has a role, whether you’re in the game or not, and a place on this team and this program. It’s just being confident with it and okay with it.
“They want to succeed and that’s the key. They want to win. And I think they’re starting to understand that on different nights, it can be different in a lot of ways. One night I might play a lot of minutes and another night it might be a bad night for me and someone else comes in and things go in a different defense or whatever. It might not be my night. I think they’re starting to get it. 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 Lady Patriot’s list 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, guard, Haleigh Releford, guard, and Savannah Robbins, forward; sophomores – Haleigh Ellison, forward, Abby Lane, guard, Ally Lynn, guard, and Alyvia Taylor, 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 size and length of the squad went with it. However, McWhorter says the length is still there.
“A lot of people thought we also lost height and length. What we miss Kaitlynn in size with rebound and such. We are finding parts and people who are helping to bridge this gap. But our length is still there,” she said. “We are still very long. Our wingspans…we have girls with very long wingspans like Savannah (Robbins), Haleigh (Releford), Lydia (Rice). Then you go down and you have Haleigh Ellison who has a long wingspan and Chloe Ralston who is a freshman who has a very long wingspan. And even some who don’t have the long wingspan make up for it with speed and effort like Hailee Reed or Ally Lynn and Abby Lane. Some of your smaller players are going to compensate for this with grit, feistiness, and aggression.
Another person helping to pick up the slack is rookie Emily Estes.
“She’s still young but we’re finding ways to get her up to speed for more college. It’ll come with a bit more experience and consistency in jv. But I was really pleased to see how well she move and work hard and continue to stand out,” McWhorter said.
The Lincoln Girls won both of their preseason scrimmages, beating Walton-Verona by two runs in Scott County and dominating Spencer County in a dominating home win Nov. 21. The Lady Patriots overcame an early double-digit deficit to claim victory over Spencer. .
“We came out a little slow. We showed that some this summer,” McWhorter said. “Some games the balls wouldn’t go in the hole for us. We had some good shots early in the scrum tonight that didn’t necessarily fall and they landed shots that they didn’t necessarily hit. They felt it. I kind of let them play instead of calling a time out, because it was a scrum, to see how they would react or who would step in.
“And they reacted well. We calmed down. Our defense took over the second quarter just before halftime, which made the difference in our offensive production. That’s what we talked about at halftime. This consistency put him on defense. Yes, the ball wasn’t going in the hole early, but our defensive effort and intensity wasn’t there as it should be either. Once we tweaked that a bit and got that end off the ground, it resulted in a transition and our ability to land a few punches.
McWhorter attributed Lincoln’s slow start against Spencer to nerves.
“I think they were a bit nervous, those who hadn’t played much in college, playing at home for the first time. I heard them talking and there were nerves,” she said. “Once they settled in, you could see the nervousness go away and they focused on what they needed to do.”
The Lady Patriots will announce the new season Monday night, hosting South Laurel in their season opener at 7:30 p.m.
McWhorter says the team is excited to start the season. She says the opener will be a test.
“It will be a test of where we are because they are, in my opinion, one of the top five preseason teams in the state,” she said. “If they’re not, they’re Top 10 for sure. They’ve got two players signed to Division I. Ally Collett is going to play for Western Kentucky and Amerah Steele is going East. Then they have another player going to Lindsey Wilson and I heard they had got transfers.
“It’s a very, very high quality ball club that we’re going to face. Our schedule isn’t for the light-hearted either. We have a very busy schedule ahead of us, but I think our girls are ready for the challenge. We will have victories, I think some people will not expect it. We are going to have games where we could be knocked down, but I think we can also knock down anyone. I believe in our kids. I can’t wait to see how the season goes.”