Despite losing just one senior to graduation, the Berea Community girls basketball team will be without three of the starters whom helped lead the team to its first 11th Region All “A” Classic Championship in 19 years.
Adrienne Beggs was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year. She is now playing at Berea College.
Injury and a departure also left the Lady Pirates without two starters.
The Lady Pirates second-leading scorer and point guard Mati Stepp tore her ACL this summer and will likely miss the entire season, while Melissa Gosney moved away.
Luckily, Berea has had plenty of time to make adjustments, but coach Dammian Stepp said it hasn’t been without some hard work.
“Not only losing Adrienne, but with Mati and Melissa gone as well, we’ve had to have everyone step up their game and really do their jobs on the court. We were anticipating having one graduate and ended up being down three starters,” Stepp acknowledged.
The Lady Pirates ended last season with a 22-9 record while also taking the 11th Region All “A” Classic title.
“We want to repeat that kind of success this year and the girls are working hard. We’ve had some losses in regard to what we felt would be a return to our success from last year. We had a great year last year and were able check off a lot of things on our list. We definitely still feel like we have some unfinished business and are still looking for a 44th District championship,” Stepp said.
Despite the hiccups, the Lady Pirates have pulled together and are on track to make another run this season.
“Nobody is going to replace Mati,” Stepp said. “Our guard play is our biggest question mark right now, but we are in much better shape — program wise — than we’ve been in the past.”
Sophomore Isis Rodgers has stepped up to take on the point guard role this season.
“She had a terrific All “A” Tournament performance last year. She worked really hard in the off season and we have made the preparations to get multiple players ready for the challenge of filling Mati’s shoes. Isis is our strongest contender. She started some significant minutes and has shown she can handle herself,” Stepp said,
According to the coach, Rodgers shined in a preseason scrimmage in which she played the full game with only two turnovers.
“I don’t see any reason the she can’t step in and handle that role,” the coach added.
To fill in the void left by Beggs, Stepp said the Lady Pirates will look to Mackenzie Howell and Chesney Lovins.
Lovins shot 45 percent from the field last season and Howell had 43 rebounds.
“That will fall on their shoulders,” Stepp said of the new roles. “Those two have spent some time at the five spot and will be likely factors in our success this season.”
Alexis Newman and Madison Howell will round out the Lady Pirates backcourt.
Both were among Berea’s leading scorers last season.
Newman led the team in three-point shooting with 55 from beyond the arc.
The Lady Pirates are also seeing some sparks from freshman Maddy King and Abigail Beard.
“There are a couple of kids who are really vying for time. Maddy is about 5-foot-1, but she is a sparkplug and handles the ball well. Beard is pretty solid.”
Stepp said the team has been working hard and expects the Lady Pirates to grow into their roles.
“We feel pretty good. There will be some tests early on and we will likely need to make some adjustments. As kids become more confident in those roles, I think we can be pretty competitive again,” Stepp said.
While the Lady Pirates will be young again, they are not without experience.
“A lot of these kids have been playing since seventh grade. It’s not really your typical depiction of youth. They have played and gotten some good minutes,” Stepp explained.
The Lady Pirates will open their season at home against Barbourville before taking on Bourbon County in their first road game of the season.
“We have intentionally made that next step as far as competition goes in our schedule this year. With Mati, I think some people considered us a top eight in this region… but any team has to be bigger than just any one individual. Our kids have been working hard to pick up the slack and I think we could put together a strong season and help prepare for the future,” Stepp said.