All the victories, school records, state-wide rankings and accolades didn’t really mean all that much in the end to the Lady Indians.
Despite winning 28 games and losing just once during the regular season, they didn’t accomplish their ultimate goal.
“Really, 28-2 is just an average year if you don’t win the region,” Madison Central coach Robert Cooksey said. “I’d rather be 14-14 and win the region.”
A year later, the goal remains the same.
After falling in the 11th Region semifinals last season, the Lady Indians are still focused on earning the program’s first-ever trip to the Sweet 16.
“Expectations are high,” Cooksey said. “When I took the job, the expectations were for us to be regional contenders every year. I think we are a contender, but like any other team, we are going to be a work in progress.”
The Lady Indians certainly have the talent to make a run at a regional title.
Central lost seven seniors from that district championship team, but led by all-state candidate Jenna
Cornelison, sophomore forward Ashton Feldhaus and a list of young standouts this year’s squad should be just as a talented.
“That’s going to hurt our depth, but we feel like we have younger kids who played enough varsity minutes and got enough experience,” Cooksey said. “We had a really good summer. We feel like we have a lot of younger kids coming along who will help us.”
Those younger players and four returning starters (Cornelison, Feldhaus, Erica Parks and Larryn Brooks) led Central to some outstanding results this summer. The Lady Indians advanced to the final four of the state AAU tournament and the school’s junior varsity team won the state title.
Cornelison was a big part of that success this summer and has played a major role in the Lady Indians posting a 49-12 record the past two seasons.
The senior guard averaged 15 points a game last season and was named to the Kentucky Junior All-Star Team.
“I don’t think she gets enough credit,” Cooksey said of Cornelison. “I think she gets left out of a lot of those publications and things because she doesn’t average a ton of points. But, we have other kids and we spread the ball around. We are not one-dimensional. I think she’s one of the top two players in the region. She’s huge key for us.”
In her first full season as a varsity starter, Ashton Feldhaus emerged as a standout last season. The sophomore forward is already drawing considerable interest from college coaches and could be poised to have a breakout season.
Parks returns to anchor a backcourt that is as talented as any in the region. The senior is the Lady Indians’ best perimeter defender and one of the better athletes on the team.
Brooks will once again run the point for Central. The sophomore had a fantastic summer and is starting to get serious looks from colleges all across the state.
“She’s going to be a big-time commodity by the time she is a senior,” Cooksey said.
Junior Kristin Congleton has shown great improvement and teamed with Feldhaus on the inside should give Central another solid interior presence.
The Lady Indians can also expect to get solid contributions from Ashley Hinkle (junior), Aleia Minter (junior), Lauren Skipworth (junior), Heather Hinkle (sophomore), Mary Kate Miller (sophomore), Bailey O’Bryan (freshman) and Chrystal Miller (junior).
Model Laboratory (14-14)
For the third time in three seasons, the Lady Patriots will have a new coach.
But, this time the transition shouldn’t be all that difficult.
After Jamie Keene stepped down last year following one very successful season, his father-in-law, Ronald Preece, took over the program.
“I helped (Jamie) a little last year,” Preece said. “I went to a lot of the games. My granddaughter plays on the team. So, I knew a lot of the kids.”
Preece brings an impressive resume to Model. He won two regional titles during his almost two decades as the girls basketball coach at Phelps.
He also served as principal at the small Pike County school.
Under Keene, the Lady Patriots had a remarkable turnaround, winning 11 more than games last season than they did the year before.
It will be difficult for Model to do that again this year. The Lady Patriots lost five seniors and had three other players not return to the team this season.
“We are just working a little short-handed right now,” Preece said.
Still, the Lady Patriots have talent coming back.
Seniors Sydney Smoot and Stef Giachini both have some experience and will be counted on to provide leadership. Juniors Tara Hill, Madison Schneid and Caroline Engle all started last season and along with freshmen Madison Keene and Darrian Botts are expected to be key performers.
Eighth-grader Hayley Hunt is expected to get playing time as well.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I expect those eight players to take us there,” Preece said. “We want to continue to build on the foundation they built last year. Next year we should be even better than this year. We lost a lot, but I expect us to be very competitive.”
Madison Southern (8-18)
Summer Simmons certainly didn’t need to be introduced to her team when she took over as the head coach earlier this year at Madison Southern.
“I’ve worked with all of them,” Simmons said. “So, it’s been pretty easy. I don’t have to get to know their personalities or their names.”
The former Berea College player/assistant was on the coaching staff at both Madison Southern at Foley Middle School last year. She served as an assistant at the varsity and junior varsity level, was the coach of the Southern freshman team and was also the coach of the eighth-grade team at Foley.
She took over after Brian Cunnigan stepped down following four seasons as head coach.
Southern won just eight games last season, but the team returns basically every player who got any varsity playing time last season. The Eagles also added a junior with some previous experience — Aleeca Broughton — and a three eighth-graders.
That strong group of returners is led by three seniors who all started last season.
Tosha Boggs averaged 16.8 points a game last season and will likely be the team’s main offensive weapon once again.
“She can score any time she wants to,” Simmons said of Boggs. “She’s also become a pretty good defender.”
Mary Mullins developed into a solid post presence last season and much more will be expected of her this year.
“She’s taken under her wing some of the younger girls,” Simmons said of Mullins. “She is a leader on the court. She’s improved in her post game. She’s stronger.”
The Lady Eagles will also be looking to get more offensive out of senior guard Brooke Casteel.
“She should get lots of shots up this year,” Simmons said of Casteel. “She’s a good defender, too.”
Juniors Kandace Cruse, Jessica Helton and Jordan Renner will also compete for playing time along with Kristen Hayes, Rachel Ramey, Kelley Freeman and Callie Cook.
Berea Community (9-16)
The Lady Pirates are still relatively young, but with almost everyone back from last year, they hope to take a big step forward this season.
Berea has just two seniors and three juniors on the roster, still the team has depth and plenty of young talent.
“We hope we can (improve),” Berea coach Jerry Bingham said. “We’ve worked hard enough. We played a pretty strong schedule this summer to try to get better against good people. We tested them. We played a lot of the Top 25 teams in the state from last year.”
Sarah Haycraft did not return to team, but almost everyone else did, including seniors Rachel Wilder and Noah Short. Wilder was the team’s leading scorer last year and Short has stepped into the starting lineup.
Sophia Shearer (junior) was Berea’s second-leading scorer last season and leading rebounder. Brooke Coccari (junior) and Taylor Winstead (junior) are also back along with sophomore Ashley Sizemore, Chase Fain (freshman), Victoria Sexton (eighth-grader) and Hannah Haycraft.
“This is the first time in a long time that I feel like I can play any kid on our roster and not lose much at all,” Bingham said. “I’m very confident in our bench.”
Berea also added a talented transfer from Alabama — Lavata Swope — but the sophomore injured an ankle recently and won’t be available at the start of the season.
“She’s been a good addition,” Bingham said. “It’s unfortunate that the injury popped up at this time.”