For the past four years, the Letcher County Central Lady Cougars were built mostly around experienced players led by four key players who have since graduated — Vannah Breeding, Kelah Eldridge, Julie Cornett and Keisha Collins. The four helped the school earn its first regional title since 2006.
With one starter returning this year, junior point guard Cheyanne Stidham, and several juniors who were key role players last year, Coach Dickie Adams and his long-serving assistants, Bumper Adams, Amy Kincer and Danny Cornett, will have a huge challenge to overcome if this team is to successfully defend its regional title come March.
In their preseason poll, the 14th Region’s girls’ coaches apparently judge LCC to have only average talent, size and experience returning, as the Lady Cougars are selected fourth behind Perry County Central, Leslie County and Powell County.
Coach Adams doesn’t agree with the poll.
“I think it’s very realistic for us to expect to return to the state tournament with the talent and size we have coming back,” he said. “You have to consider that other top teams also lost talent and key players, but maybe not as much as us and Knott County.”
Knott County Central rounds out the top five teams in the coaches’ poll.
“One team that didn’t lose much is Powell (County),” said Adams. “Leslie County returns their two stars in Katie Moore and Brooke Asher, while Perry Central returns Kayla Rankin.”
In the past eight years, Breathitt County (3), Perry County Central (3) and LCCHS (2) have earned the right to take the threehour trip to Bowling Green for the Girls’ Sweet 16, but none were able to move past the quarterfinals.
The Perry County Central Lady Commodores, 19-9 last year, are led again this year, as Coach Adams points out, by All- State and potential Division 1 candidate Rankin, a 6-0 senior center. The only other full-time starter returning is low-scoring junior point guard Whitney Evans. Still, Coach Randy Napier returns enough capable and experienced role players to complement Rankin and make PCC the team to beat on the road to Bowling Green.
The team that just may have enough size and scoring to upset the Lady Commodores is Leslie County. Last year the Lady Eagles posted a 25-8 record and won the All-A Classic regional championship. This year, Leslie County will be led again by high-scoring junior guard Katie Moore, (24 ppg/9 rpg) and junior center Brooke Asher.
Powell County may be a legitimate dark horse team because it returns all five starters from a team that finished 24-9 last season. The Lady Pirates have their own star in senior center Keeley Rogers, who stands only 5-8 but averaged 24 points and 9 rebounds last season.
Even though LCC graduated four key players, there appears to be enough returning talent and size to make the Lady Cougars very competitive this season. The foundation of all Adams-coached teams has been the ability to play defense and rebound. While this year’s team may not be his most talented, it certainly could be his best rebounding team, and rebounding wins a lot of games.
Knott Central graduated four starters off last year’s 20-10 squad with only senior guard Hailey Short returning. Senior forward Savannah Hatmaker will step up, but the rest of the team will be very young.
Adams is basing his outlook on the fact that his program manages to reload every year rather than having to go through a rebuilding process.
“We had a good summer, and last year’s junior varsity team has lost hardly any games and they were JV regional champs,” he said. “And last year’s freshman team lost only one game. I have all those players coming plus the return of Cheyanne Stidham, a real crucial player from last year.”
The Lady Cougars open the season on the road Jackson City on Friday (Dec. 6).
LCC’s first home game will be against highly regarded Scott County on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 7).