WEBSTER COUNTY, KY - Wow! What a difference a year makes. Just ask Webster County Lady Trojan Christina Whitsell.
After riding the wave of 50 victories in two seasons, appearances in the regional final and semi-finals and the 'bulls-eye' affixed squarely on their backs as the top team in Region 2 last season, the face of the Lady Trojans has certainly changed for the upcoming season.
The graduation of seven seniors and the additional loss of one of last year's starters plus two key reserves, you'd think that the cupboard is pretty much bare for the Lady Trojan coaching staff. But that's certainly not the case as Coach Whitsell has attacked this year's pre-season practice session with a energy and enthusiasm like never before.
"We pretty much lost our entire team that had any type of varsity experience, starters and role players," Whitsell explained. "Add the fact that with our tenacious schedule we've had the past two years to showcase and provide exposure for players with college aspirations, we really haven't had the opportunity to give the younger girls many varsity minutes. All that being said, we pretty much have a brand new team including several freshman that will be competing for starting roles."
A stark contrast from last year's senior-laden squad with the label of 'the team to beat in the region.' A season-ending upset in the Regional semi-finals halted Webster's state tournament hopes but the college offers were numerous at the season's end as four Lady Trojans moved on to the college ranks.
Fast-forward to 2010-11 and the WC girls will welcome the 'underdog' moniker with a group of fresh-faced freshmen and sophomores, but that won't lessen Whitsell expectations on the hardwood.
"We love our personnel this year. We're very athletic and have a lot of new kids that can play many different positions. We are a little undersized and obviously inexperienced and young. But they're working extremely hard and that's something that's just been ingrained into the program.”
"The kids that graduated and moved on to the college level didn't earn that honor without hours and hours of hard work. These younger kids having accepted that work ethic and continued it as well. These younger kids that competed against those seniors last year, day-in and day-out in practice have really gotten better. Playing against those seniors has really improved the game of youngsters," Whitsell explained.
The WCHS coach relishes the role of being underrated and possibly being overlooked in terms of the top teams in the region.
"Last year we had all the high expectations, each and every game the pressure was on no matter who we were playing. It was a lot of stress and lot of pressure on those seniors and sometimes they just didn't handle it very well," she explained. "This year there is very little expectations and the kids realize they're going to be overlooked so it's very important for us to enjoy some success early and for these girls to understand their roles."
Five ... count 'em ... five new starters will hit the hardwood opening night, which for most coaching staffs means "we don't have a clue what's going to happen out there." But Whitsell is very confident with her 'kiddie corps' and she expects improvement each and every game.
"Right now, no one really understands their role. They're still looking for Kerstin (Hayes) to get the ball down the floor or Lynette (Harris) to pull down the rebound and put it back for another basket. They're still looking for those players ... but now it's them," she said with a smile.
The WC coaching staff has been very pro-active, making adjustments and even changing the style of play to fit the new personnel.
"We want to be fast-paced, up-and-down utilizing our athletic ability and our transition game. We want to avoid half-court sets as much as possible. We realized this summer that our transition game is pretty strong and certainly a real positive in how well we competed this summer. We beat some good teams and competed in every game, we didn't get blown out in a single game and that's very encouraging concerning how young and inexperienced we are.”
"These kids were relentless, they never gave up, they never quit and never hung their heads and we even beat Henderson and Union in summer basketball. I realize it's just summer basketball, but we were very pleased with their competitive spirit and confidence they displayed. The girls proved they can compete with these teams and I think that really gave them a lot of confidence."
Leading the charge for the Lady Trojans this season will be the 'elder statesman' of the group, 5-foot-9 junior Brooke Ross. She earned valuable varsity minutes last season and Webster will depend on the very athletic forward to do it all ... rebound, score, defend and be the team leader.
"She'll play the four and three spots for us because she's so athletic and quick. I'm so proud of her work ethic, she's always been in the shadows of Lynette and Stephanie (Householder) but now is her time in the limelight and I think she understands this is her team and she's the one we're going to be looking to for leadership," Whitsell stated.
Webster will suit-up just two seniors and one, Haylee Householder, will get the starting nod at center. She also got varsity minutes last season but her biggest asset was much like that of Ross, she had to 'bang" against those seniors every day in practice last year so now her game has taken giant leaps forward.
"She works extremely hard at both ends of the floor, especially rebounding and on defense. Her job is to be rough, beat-and-bang and rebound. She does that really well," Whitsell laughed. "God love her, we just got to keep her out of foul trouble."
Hayleigh Dame, a 5-11 sophomore, will also see time in the post. Another strong player with the ability to grab rebounds and muscle her way around the paint.
"She's a very hard worker and will do anything we ask of her. She's a gamer, she's there to play hard every second and will not back down from anyone. We really like what she brings to the table as far as scoring and rebounding," the WC coach continued.”
Another aggressive post player off the bench will be Elonte Allen, a 5-10 sophomore.
"All three of these girls are a little undersized in the post but they work extremely hard and the can 'beat-and-bang' with the best," Whitsell continued.
Guard play for the Lady Trojans will mean new faces as well, including freshman Darrian McNary at the point. A talented player with "zero" high school experience at any level, she impressed the WC coaching staff with her play this summer to get the starting nod.
"She is absolutely relentless to the basket. Darrian is the best player we have when it comes to attacking the basket and finishing (scoring). She's gonna get to the rim or she's gonna get fouled and right now, she's the best we have at that skill. She can handle the ball with either hand and also has a pretty decent jump shot," Whitsell continued.
Mariah Herrera, a 5-9 freshman, will also see time at the point guard. The lightning-quick guard played at the varsity level at times last year and she may also see duty at the small forward.
"She's improved tremendously from last year with her shooting and ball handling skills. Still working on that but she's a great athlete, always attacking the basket. We really like how well Mariah and Darrian played together this summer," said Whitsell.
Ready, aim, fire are the instructions for WC's two-guard Aliesha Stone. The sharp-shooting junior has the 'shooter's mentality' according to Whitsell, never backing down from a chance to drain a long-range 3.
"Aliesha definitely our best outside shooter and our point guards did a really nice job of penetrating and kicking out to her this summer. Out of everybody I've coached so far here at WCHS, she has that mentality of the next shot is going in. She can miss 10 in a row and she's still ready to fire. We won three games this summer on last-second shots from Aliesha. She wants the ball, she wants to shoot it and you just have to have kids like that."
Kolbi Edens, another sophomore, will also earn numerous minutes at the two guard while Lauren Grant and Mayce Davis will provide depth at the guard position.
"Kolbi has a really nice shot and plays really hard. She's a very good athlete as well. Lauren is another hard worker, especially at the defensive end. Mayce is very tenacious and could earn some minutes as a freshman.”
Bailey Townsend, another freshman has also shown signs of good things during preseason workouts. These girls really get after people and have shown some very aggressive play," Whitsell continued.
"In the past I haven't really been much of a pressing (defense) coach, I just didn't think I had the personnel to do that. This year we feel like we have the personnel and the athletic ability to do more of that and not just rely on a man-to-man defense," Whitsell continued. "We feel like we can be more effective playing that style of basketball.”
Adding to the depth for a pressing-style team will be Raven Baxter, another very athletic guard as well as Brea Copeland, a first-year player as a senior but one who started at Providence High School as a seventh and eighth grader.
"These kids really work hard and bring much to the table as far as their
athletic play and the added depth."
Whitsell's again sets the goal of a trip the regional tournament but can never look past district-rivals Union and Henderson counties.
"They both have very solid teams and we'll certainly be the underdogs against both. That will just make those regular season district games so important, especially Union County which returns its entire team from last year," Whitsell concluded.
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