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Team pins season hopes on experience and depth

By Dave Taylor

Experience will be a huge factor in the success of this year’s Trimble County Lady Raiders basketball program. Trimble hopes to build on the 14-13 record of a year ago.

Gone are three players from that team: Raegan Black, Janae Dunlap and Danyal Adams. Black “was a big loss both from a scoring standpoint and rebounding,” Lady Raiders Head Coach Kerrie Stewart said. “She usually drew a tough defensive assignment and provided a lot of leadership.”

Trimble returns seven seniors this season. That number would have been eight but for the loss of Kayla Barnes, out with an ankle injury that required surgery. “She’s going to stay on as a statistician and be a part of the team but unfortunately will not be out on the floor this year,” Stewart said.

The seniors include Sara Kate Long, a four-year starter for the Lady Raiders, Sara Kuner, Hannah Davis, Sydney Brewer, Emily Black, Katie Temple and McKenzie Dunlap.

Stewart expects “a lot of solid play” from Long. Kuner was a starter in most games last season. Brewer moved to Trimble from Carroll County this school year. “She’s just getting to know the program and know the girls,” Stewart said.
“Emily Black is a senior who saw very limited time but quite frankly we expect her to see quite a bit of playing time this year largely because she’s grown some and we’ve moved her around position wise,” the coach said. “She’s going to play inside for us quite a bit. She’s been doing a nice job rebounding, both in practice and in the one scrimmage we’ve had so we’re expecting some good things there.”

Temple was a part-time starter last year, Stewart said, and will fill the post this season. McKenzie Dunlap was in the team’s top eight rotation last year and got some substantial minutes so the coaching staff is expecting some good things out of her.

While blessed with a solid senior class Stewart said this year’s “underclassmen are athletically just as good and just as strong.” She expects junior Chloe Griffith and sophomore Paige Black to be starters. “Jessie Dunlap is probably looking at sixth or seventh off the bench. Jessica Ball has shown tremendous improvement over the course of the summer.”

Ball was out all last season with a back injury.

“We feel real good through eight or nine people that we’re going to have some people that can get in and provide different things for the team and give us a good look out there on the floor,” Stewart said.

The extensive depth creates a large margin of productivity in practice because the girls “push each other and make each other have to work. That’s been a real benefit,” Stewart said.

The down side of so much talent on one team can be that some team members may be less than satisfied with their playing time, Stewart said, because it’s hard to go beyond eight on the regular rotation and get into the flow of the game.

“Hopefully, everybody can be content with their role whatever that may be and have the team at the heart of their interest as opposed to individuals,” she said. “They’re a good group of girls.”

Trimble will host both the girls’ and boys’ District Tournaments next March. The Lady Raiders will again have to defeat one of the three Oldham County schools to advance.

“I think both South Oldham and Oldham County will be tough opponents this year,” Stewart said. “South didn’t graduate anybody off of a very good ball team last year that went to the finals of the regional tournament. Oldham County was young last year but very competitive and I think they’re going to be even better. It’s the second year for their new coach.”

If this year’s Lady Raiders work hard and stick together their coach has confidence her team can be competitive in the District this year.

“Our goal is certainly going to be to keep ourselves out of that fourth seed,” Stewart said. “If we can be two or three then at least we give ourselves a chance to get to the regional tournament this year.”

Stewart expects her team to be “pretty solid” in the North Central Kentucky Conference this season. She expects Owen County and Walton-Verona to be the two favored schools in the NCKC as both have very tough, very competitive basketball teams that not only will be in the mix for a conference title but for a Class A title and Eighth Region title as well.

“I really feel like those two teams will be able to compete with the best of the best,” Stewart said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us with regards to those two particular teams. Everybody else, it’s going to come down to who decides to outwork whom on any given night. We’re not going to be at a huge advantage over anybody. We’re not going to be at a huge disadvantage over anybody. We could win every conference game on our list or we could lose every one of them. It’s going to be very competitive this year, I think.”

As a player in a Lady Raiders uniform Stewart never envisioned herself in the coaching field. One year there was an opening in the program for a female assistant to former Head Coach J.T. Peniston. Stewart was coaxed into the role, she said, and “I just fell in love with it after that. I love seeing the kids grow not only as basketball players but as human beings. This team especially—the closeness that they exhibit, their care for one another, their care for their community. They’re just good people to be around. If I can somehow be a positive role model and teach them some basketball along the way then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Peniston, who also served as boys’ varsity coach, varsity baseball coach and athletic director during his teaching career at Trimble, remains a role model for Stewart.

“J.T. is such a rare individual,” she said. “Next to my own father and my husband I can’t think of any man in this world that I admire more or have any deeper respect for than J.T. Peniston. Watching how he dealt with people, how he put the needs of individuals over anything. First and foremost it was about making sure they became good people and good citizens. I’ve never heard that man offer up a curse word. I don’t either. You try to show that respect for your kids that he showed you when you were playing for him.”

Expect the Lady Raiders’ quickness to be a strong point of their style of play this season. Other strengths will be the team’s defensive effort and conditioning level.

“While I’ve always felt good about our conditioning I think we are in better condition this year than we’ve ever been,” Stewart said. “We’re going to try to play a much faster-paced style of basketball with the goal being to press other teams and try to force some turnovers and get some easy baskets as a result.

“I feel very good about our point guard Paige Black who is a sophomore so she’s got a year under her belt now and has some natural point guard talent there that we think can help lead the way for us to be very successful,” Stewart said.

Trimble’s veteran mentor expects to have a winning season and says her girls are ready to play.

“We’re expecting to go out there and leave it all on the floor game in and game out,” she said. “You get to that point where it’s just time to play and you have to put it out there on the floor and let the chips fall where they may. As long as I’ve been at this I still get that ‘I think I’m going to throw up’ feeling right before I walk out onto the floor for that first game. Will we win every game? Probably not, but I think we’ll win far more than we lose and I don’t think it will be because we were defeated before we went out onto the floor. I’m excited for them and excited to be part of it. It should be fun!”