Solving the 40th: Four questions heading into the girls’ 2016-17 season

Published 8:06 pm Saturday, November 26, 2016

This week marks the tipoff for high school girls’ basketball programs across the state. Among them, the George Rogers Clark High School team and the 40th District.

The Cardinals are looking for third straight district title, with their eyes focused on a region crown and a state tournament appearance. Bourbon County hopes to make their third trip to the region tournament. While Montgomery County continues to work toward rebuilding, Paris will look to a first-year coach and experienced players to catch the rest of the district by surprise.

Going into the first week of the regular season, here are four questions for the 40th District to consider:

Can Bourbon break through?

In the 11 seasons since the 40th District has played under this alignment, the tournament title has gone to teams from GRC or Montgomery County. While the Bourbon County Colonels have played for a championship each of the past two seasons, they still haven’t brought home a trophy.

They’ll have a strong foundation with possibly the best duo of post players in the 10th Region — Rose Mason and Chariss Wilson. The two seniors will be the backbone of the team, but outside of a trio of juniors, the Colonels will be very young.

“We’re going to be as good as our young, inexperienced perimeter people,” Bourbon coach Bill Watson said. “We hope they develop through the year.”

Early on in the season, the game will flow through WiIson and Mason. The pair will be on the floor together and key the Colonels offensively while being a focus on defense, too.

“We’ll do a lot of high-low stuff,” Watson said. “We’ve done some of that in the past. We’ll play a lot of zone when they are both in the game.

“Chariss has the ability to step out on the perimeter and guard certain people. Rose is a tremendous help defender. We’ll get out and guard a little bit. With both of them in the game, we’ll do a lot of zone defense.”

The Colonels will also make use of sophomore forward Laurin Bentley.

“(Bentley) is not 6-1 or 6-2, but she’s very athletic and has a motor that won’t quit,” Watson said. “She’ll be part of our rotation in the post. We like watching her play. She never quits.”

The Colonels open the season at Robertson County Monday. Their home opener will be Dec. 5 against Bishop Brossart.

Will getting buff make the Cardinals tough?

Despite winning the 40th District this past season, the Cardinals felt like they had some things to improve on. One of those was mental toughness.

“We weren’t as tough as we needed to be,” GRC coach Robbie Graham said. “We lost some games late in  the season through mental breakdowns. We had several games where we had 35 turnovers and lose by single digits. We’re trying to eliminate those situations this season.”

To toughen them up mentally, Graham sent them to the weight room to put in work.

“Last year, I felt like we got pushed round physically so we really hit the weights hard this preseason,” Graham said. “I felt like we had to get stronger,  Through that weight training, we got tougher mentally as well as physically. Think that will help us.”

And the girls are seeing a difference, even if it’s just an aesthetic one right now.

“I feel it in my arms when I flex,” senior Elizabeth Hardiman said. “I’m getting pretty big muscles.”

“It’s been a big difference,” Graham said. “We’ve seen them walking around flexing and posing in mirrors. It’s been a fun time for them as well as hard work.”

The district favorite Cardinals open the season on the road. They take on Nicholas County Wednesday night before returning home Saturday to face Paris in an early district clash.

Is this the year Moco returns to the top?

Before the Cardinals took hold of the 40th District, and even before they and Montgomery County wrestled for district and 10th Region crowns, the Indians were the district power, winning four straight district titles after the current alignment was put in place in the 2005-06 season.

They’ve won six of the last 11 district crowns, one more than GRC.

But Montgomery hasn’t been the force it once was.

This will be coach John High’s 29th year — but prior to last year, he had gone eight years without coaching. His goal is get the Indians back to the top of the district and region.

This season, the Indians will look to Sydney Greene and Lake Williamson — their only seniors — to get them at least back to the second round of the district tournament.

While the numbers have been down for Montgomery, High said the overall program’s participation is starting to improve.

“Our goals never change,” High said. “We want to to win the last game of the year. Only one team in the state does that. We will be disappointed if that doesn’t happen, but we’re realistic.”

To get back where they think they belong, the Indians will have to lean on each other.

“It’s going to take a team effort. It’s something that is developed through time,” he said. “They have to love each other. And want to live with each and want to take care of each other. If they get that bond, a lot of good things will happen. People step on the floor with the idea they will have a chance to win. When you do step on the floor without that thought, probably you’re going to get a negative result.”

The Indians also start on the road, heading to Madison Southern Monday. They return to Mount Sterling Tuesday to face Woodford County.

Do the Greyhounds get a confidence boost?

Coach Aaron Speaks takes over a Paris program coming off three straight losing seasons.

But the Greyhounds may be the most experienced team in the 40th District with five seniors and four juniors.

“Sometimes in a class ‘A’ school you don’t have the numbers so they start young,” Speaks said. “These kids have been playing for a long time. We took our bumps and bruises, I think we’re ready to start competing.”

The trick will be convincing a team that’s used to take taking the bumps they are good enough to hang with what is shaping up to be one of the toughest districts in the state.

“They need to believe they can play with the teams on our schedule,” Speaks said. “We’ve got to have the desire to not put your head down when things don’t well. If we can get over the hurdle of confidence, I think you will see a different Paris team than you are accustomed to seeing.”

Speaks said the Greyhound will be a defense-first team, looking to hold opponents near the 50-60-point mark.

Paris hosts Berea and Bath County Monday and Wednesday to start the year before traveling to Winchester to face GRC Saturday.

Casey can be reached at casey.castle@winchestersun.com.