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Lady Cougars need team effort

The beginning of the state high school basketball season is now just two weeks away and nearly all the preseason girls’ prognosticators have picked defending 14th Region champion Perry County Central to repeat in March.

Letcher County Central and Knott County Central are expected to battle for second place with little expectation to unseat the Lady Commodores.

Perry County Central, 27-4 last season, lost 42-40 to Butler in the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen after All-State guard Kendra Noble spent much of the second half hampered by a knee injury that required surgery. Reports out of Perry County indicate that Noble, a 5-10 senior, has fully recovered. Noble, combined with 6-0 sophomore forward Kayla Rankin, are the top two returning players in the region. These two averaged 40 points and 16 rebounds combined last season. Two other starters, juniors Whitney Back and Randi-Carol Napier, return along with a talented bench.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Perry Central only got richer when 5-10 senior Katelyn Smith transferred in from Mason County where she was a top 10 player in the 10th Region last season.

Letcher County Central Coach Dickie Adams said recently that he didn’t think any other team is realistically capable of knocking Perry Central off the top rung of the regional rankings this season.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone of (our) teams will be strong enough to really put a lot of pressure on Perry Central,” Adams said. “I see it as Perry Central, and everyone else playing for second place.”

Knott County Central, last year’s 53rd District champs and regional runners-up, return four starters from that 15-15 squad. Highly regarded junior guard Kennedy King returns after missing last season with an injury. The Lady Patriots’ backcourt of juniors Paige Slone and Regan King averaged in double figures last year, as did senior Kelsie Jacobs.

The Jenkins Lady Cavs’ final preseason scrimmage will be at home against Clintwood tomorrow (Nov. 17) at 6 p.m.

Letcher Central struggled for a bit last January when leading scorer Kelah Eldridge went down with a knee injury that also required off-season surgery.

“There was a little downturn there when Kayla got hurt,” said Adams, “but we got over it and quit feeling sorry for ourselves and decided we needed to play.”

The Lady Cougars lost to Perry Central in last year’s regional semifinals and finished up 19-10.

“We had some girls that really stepped up and played down the stretch,” said Adams. “ Vannah Breeding became more prominent offensively and had some really big games. Senior guard/ forward Haley Whitaker picked up her scoring output and took more charge of the team. Junior Julie Cornett also picked up her scoring production as did senior Erica Meade.”

Adams said that with Eldridge back, he wants his players to continue to improve their own individual contributions and not go back to standing around and watching Eldridge.

“The thing we’re trying to guard against now that Kelah is back and playing is that we don’t stand around and watch her play,” said Adams. “Certainly Kelah is a good player and an outstanding shooter (but) my other kids have to play. They can’t stand around and watch Kelah play. That’s what we’re trying to guard against in practice. We’re trying to make this a team. I’ve got good players that need to play.”

Junior Keisha Collins and a couple of freshman, Cheyenne Stidham and Courtney Brock, as well as Kristina Bentley and Kelli Quillen, will provide the depth for LCCHS, said Adams.

The Lady Cougars will travel to Berea College on Saturday to scrimmage Monroe County, 24-7 last year, and this year’s preseason top-ranked team in the 4th Region.

The Lady Cougars’ final preseason scrimmage will be against Magoffin County at the Knott County Sports Plex at 7:45 p.m. on November 22. Magoffin the preseason top-ranked 15th Region team. The Lady Hornets were 22-6 last year and return a trio who averaged in double figures last year.

On November 21, LCCHS will host their annual Meet the Lady Cougars.

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