The Middlesboro Lady Jackets are replacing three seniors from last year’s 6-22 team, but coach Elgie Green and his girls have reason to be optimistic heading into the 2012-13 campaign.
That’s because MHS boasts a strong freshman class with several players having already gained varsity experience along with three seniors and a junior to provide leadership and more talent on the way from the middle school ranks. It all adds up to the deepest Lady Jacket squad in years and one that could pull off their share of surprises.
“I’m excited about what this team is going to be capable of this year,” Green said. “We lost three really good seniors, but we’ve three this year that have stepped up and done a good job of leading. That’s what we expect out of them.
“We’ve got ten players that can compete against each other and go five-on-five in practice. That’s something we’ve lacked in the past is having enough players to have that competition.”
Leading the group of returning starters is freshman forward Anajae Stephney, who already has two years under her belt starting for the varsity team. She’ll be joined at the forward spot by senior Carissa Padgett. Padgett didn’t play basketball last year, but as a sophomore teamed with Stephney in the post to help the Lady Jackets to a surprising run to the 13th Region semifinals.
“Anajae can definitely handle herself in the paint, she’s really grown since last year and gotten physically stronger. Carissa Padgett brings some shot-blocking ability and she can score around the basket or take you outside and hit a jumper,” Green said. “Those two inside really had a great summer, they rebounded and just played good, solid post defense.”
Freshman point guard Bailey Hensley was thrust into quite a bit of playing time as an 8th-grader. She’ll share time at the point with senior Taylor Moyers, who is back with the team after missing the final two month of last season. Senior Kelsie Hensley is back after starting just about every game last year at the two.
“Having Taylor Moyers back gives us another strong ball-handler and good defender. Kelsie Hensley started last year and she’s been with me all along. She brings a lot of quickness and experience and provides defensive pressure,” Green said. “Bailey Hensley will more than likely be the starting point guard. She played a lot last year and she’s another one that had an impressive summer.”
While the starting five is still up in the air, other players to watch on the wings include junior Amanda Biscardi, freshman Sophia Knuckles and 7th-grader Blair Green.
“Amanda is my only junior and she’s really been playing within herself. She’ll hit buckets when she’s open and plays solid defense,” Green said. “Sophia is another one that’s grown and gotten stronger and Blair, as a 7th grader, is fighting for a starting position. She’s had a really good preseason.
”It’s not going to matter who starts, there’s a combination of eight or nine kids that I could start on any given night. It’s going to be who’s playing well together and who’s giving forth the effort that particular night is going to get the playing time.”
Providing depth in the frontcourt and also giving Green the option to play big are freshmen Taylor Prator and Lauren Spurlock.
”Those are two strong kids that are going to give us good minutes,” said Green.
One of the big advantages this year’s depth gives the team is the ability to press more, a staple of some of Green’s more successful MHS teams.
“The last couple of years we really haven’t done a lot of pressing. But this year I feel like we have enough speed, quickness and depth that we can really get after people fullcourt,” he said.
Improving in the win column come district play could be a tall task for the Lady Jackets as the 52nd looks to again be one of the toughest in the region. Harlan County has most of their key players back from last year’s 13th Region runner-up and Bell County also looks to be one of the stronger teams in the region behind star sophomore Maci Morris.
“Bell, they’ve got a bunch of returning players led by Maci Morris. I feel like they’re going to be the top team in the district this year. Harlan County is solid, they’ll be right there. Harlan lost some players but they always seem to forward a good team,” Green said. “It’s going to be tough. There aren’t going to be any pushover games in this district.”
Middlesboro opens the season Monday at South Laurel in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off. Later in the week they’ll face Perry Central, Corbin and Bell County in the Cumberland Falls Invitational at Corbin.