For the past three years, the Letcher County Central Lady Cougars have been building and pointing to this season when talent, size and experience will have matured enough to give LCCHS that extra “oomph” to get over the hump in the regional tournament.
In the past six years, first Breathitt County and then Perry County Central have managed to block the path to Bowling Green. However, this year regional coaches have made LCCHS and Perry County Central co-preseason favorites to make the trip to Bowling Green.
The Lexington Herald-Leader released its preseason top-25 poll last week and Perry County Central, which was ranked as high as 7th last year, was ranked 12th in the preseason poll. Neighboring Shelby Valley, which tangles with LCCHS in the WYMT Tourney on January 10, was ranked 25th. Another LCCHS opponent, Scott County, was ranked 24th.
The Lady Cougars open their season this Friday evening at home against a perhaps not-sohapless Jackson City. The Lady Tigers, who return four starters from last season’s 15-15 team, are counting on their experience to make them more competitive against the Lady Cougars this time around.
The Lady Cougars will host Estill County this Saturday afternoon with a scheduled 3 p.m. tip-off time. The Lady Engineers return two starters from last season’s 16-13 squad, and may need more time to get the newcomers wired in.
The 14th Region coaches held LCCHS in higher regard, apparently, than did the Herald-Leader’s sports poll voters, because the regional coaches voted Perry County Central and Letcher County Central into a tie for the regional top spot.
PCCHS, 30-3 last season after losing 50-41 to eventual state champion Louisville DuPont in the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen, graduated Kendra Noble but returns 6’1” junior All-Stator Kayla Rankin who, like LCCHS’s senior Kelah Eldridge, was selected to the Herald-Leader’s Top 25 preseason all-state team.
Both girls can play — differently, but they can both play. Many area coaches feel Rankin’s 21 points per game and size make her a Division 1 prospect right now, while Eldridge (18 ppg) needs to be able to create more offense for herself off the dribble.
The rest of the 14th Region girls’ teams are a big notch below Perry County Central and Letcher County Central as the season starts. Many area coaches rate Knott County Central, Leslie County and Powell County 3 through 5 in no set order. All three teams have ‘goto’ players. Knott County Central is led by senior guard Paige Slone (15 ppg) and Leslie County is led by sophomore guard Katie Moore (19 ppg). Both girls can fill it up if left alone defensively. Powell County is led by undersized 5’8” junior center Keeley Rogers (21 ppg).
The Lady Cougars have been fine-tuning a veteran team in their two preseason scrimmages this past week. If senior forwards Julie Cornett and Keisha Collins can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, LCCHS will be able to make opposing teams sag into the paint, and that should free up Eldridge for shooting space. Senior Vannah Breeding’s transition to playing more effectively in the paint may be another key for the Lady Cougars. Junior forward Kelli Quillen has earned starting time this fall, as has sophomore guard Cheyanne Stidham.
The Lady Cougars visit June Buchanan School on December 5 and 24th-ranked Scott County on December 8.