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Strong leadership and tough-nosed defense will be the keys to success for the Lady Panthers’ basketball team this season. The girls will battle border rival Trimble County in their season and home opener Friday night.
Head coach Randy Mefford said his team has set lofty goals for the season, including winning the 31st district tournament. Last year’s Lady Panthers beat Gallatin County in the opening round to qualify for the regional tournament, but lost to Owen County in the championship. The team finished with a 14-14 record and lost in the first round of the regional tournament to Walton-Verona.
The Lady Panthers graduated four seniors from last year’s team, including two starters, but will be led this year with three experienced seniors and return their leading scorer from last season, junior Hannah Devine. Devine averaged 15.6 points per game and surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career near the end of the season.
“We’ve had good leadership from Kyndal (Curry) and Tasha (Hunter) both being seniors, and of course Hannah is returning for her junior season, but she’s like a senior on the court because she’s been out here with us for so long,” Mefford said. “We also added Jill Butcher who played a couple years ago, but didn’t play last year. She’s a senior, and she’s going to be a nice addition to our team with several other players who are going to be able to contribute as well.”
Mefford said he’s hoping that their experience and the leadership they will provide the younger players will carry the team.
“Those three seniors have been in the program since eighth grade; they know me and what to expect,” he said. “They’re a joy to coach, all three of the seniors plus the others as well.”
Mefford said he wants to be very active as far as pushing the ball up the court on the offensive side of the ball, but defense will be the key to his team’s success.
“We’ve got to be able to defend (against) some of these really good teams in our region,” he said. “We talk about (how) offense is great and everything, but they’ve all bought in pretty much to our defense and that will get some of them more playing time than others, the ones that defend the best, because they realize the importance of playing great defense and that’s what we are really looking to do.”
Highlights on this season’s schedule include the annual North American Stainless and Carrollton/Carroll County Tourism tournament right before Christmas break and the Lady Blackcats Holiday Tournament in Prestonburg the week after Christmas.
Another game circled on the calendar is a re-match against Walton-Verona, which beat the Lady Panthers twice during the regular season and knocked them out of the regional tournament. Mefford said if his team can get by Eminence in the first round of the Class A tournament, they will likely play each other. If not, the two teams will go head-to-head on Carroll County’s senior night, Feb. 18.
“Walton-Verona has been ranked as high as second or third in the region, and they got a lot of kids back plus a transfer that has moved in for them,” Mefford said. “A lot of people are picking them to win both the Class A and the region, and they’re going to be a very good basketball team. We’ll have to be at our best when we play them, especially on their court in the Class A.”
Mefford said beating Walton-Verona and following that up with a win against a team from the other bracket and making the trip to Richmond would be a super season in and of itself, but acknowledged it would be a tough challenge. However, Mefford said the girls are fighters and will do whatever it takes to win.
“I’ve worked them really, really hard in the preseason, and they’ve kept a great attitude,” he said. “They’ve responded to all the hard work we’ve put in, and now we’re just hoping to let that carry over into our games.”
In preseason polls, the Lady Panthers are tied for fourth place with Williamstown in the North Central Kentucky Conference. Out of 16 teams in the 8th Region, the girls are in the middle of the pack, currently ranked in 8th place.