Five consecutive 42nd District championships, a perennial place in the 11th Region tournament conversation and (hopefully) four returning starters weren't enough to earn Scott County girls' basketball a spot in the upper echelon of prominent preseason polls.
Coach Steve Helton would love to use that as a motivational factor for the Lady Cards, though he also understands the perception.
“For me as a coach, it's going to be different,” Helton said. “I can't recall being outside the top three in 22 years, but preseason-wise I don't think we got a whole lot of respect in the region. But again, when you look at our roster, you're got some kids with a lot of experience and you've got some kids with no experience.”
SC returns five of its top six players from last season, at least pending the status of Emma Price, who suffered a knee injury in the Lady Cards' second exhibition game against Newport Central Catholic.
Beyond that group, there is almost no varsity experience on the roster, and not a wealth of it at the junior varsity or freshman levels, either. Scott County has a total of only 17 players in the program, and nine are ninth-graders or younger.
“We return our top three leading scorers, but we're going to have to play well defensively and we're going to have to shoot the ball really well just to be competitive,” Helton said. “Our numbers are a little bit down. Therefore, we are having to move some people out of place and out of position.”
SC does have the benefit of sixth-year varsity standout Kenady Tompkins, who has taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by Senate Bill 128 to repeat her senior season.
Tompkins, who stands 6-foot-1 and played all five positions on the court a year ago, likely will be counted on to wear the same number of hats this winter. She averaged 15.6 and 12.2 rebounds per game in 2020-21 while eclipsing 1,000 points for her career.
In addition to the coronavirus complications that erased the preseason and shortened last season to 18 games for SC (10-8), Tompkins spent much of her first senior campaign getting back into game shape after giving birth to her son, Khahari, in the fall.
“She's looking much stronger physically. She's had to grow up a little quicker than some do,” Helton said. “Obviously we're excited to have her back as far as what her skills offer our team, and her leadership. At the same time, I'm happy she's taking the time to decide if she wants to play college basketball, because she definitely can.”
Tompkins also led last year's team in assists and blocked shots, a product of playing point guard on offense and patrolling the paint defensively. As the focal point of every opponent's scouting report, her primary challenge remains staying out of foul trouble, particularly with the Cards' limited depth.
“Hopefully some of these young kids will follow her. I know they'll watch everything she does,” Helton said. “That's something we talk about is, 'There are a lot of eyes on you, your leadership and how you handle situations.’ She's going to get everybody's best shot every night.”
SC has employed every player on the court to run the offense during the preseason, but when push comes to shove, there's a good chance it will be Tompkins.
“Right now we're trying to figure out where do we need her most,” Helton said. “We're playing kids out of position. We've moved her back and forth in practice. I wanted to stay off that until we figured out how she can make the pass to herself. For what this team needs, we may need to run her at the point some. Last year we waited until about five games in. This year we may have to come out a little bit earlier and hopefully grow.”
The Cards' outlook certainly is brighter if they can get Price, who matched Tompkins with 15.6 points per game and knocked down a team-high 48 3-pointers, back in some capacity.
Maleiyah Moore, entering her third year in SC's primary rotation, also averaged in double digits (10.5) and hit 35 times from beyond the arc. Tough and relentless Tyra Young (4.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Brianna Penney (4 points, 1.5 steals per game) round out the known quantities.
“Normally I would say, hey, we've got time to grow. We've got time to learn,” Helton said. “Now you're being forced to (defend) a two-star or three-star kid coming down the court. I think keeping our kids positive is going to be a challenge. We're going to have to grow, and sometimes growing has to go through some tough times. We're going to have to figure it out.”
Kelsie Hall, a junior and one of SC's top soccer players, likely will ascend into a larger role this season. Freshman Allison Mosby and eighth-graders Kierstin Young and Dymon Percell also have been escalated into substantial duty during the Lady Cards' two scrimmages.
“We don't have a whole lot of time, and the schedule ain't real friendly. I started looking down that schedule, and there's no (easy wins),” Helton said. “Right now we've got to worry about us. Without Emma, it really throws a kink at us. Some of our young kids have got to step up. The only way to get over that is we're going to have to play through. We've got some tough days ahead of us. I wish in a week and a half I'd have the answers.”
Scott County's slate starts on the road at touted North Laurel and then a home district game against Frederick Douglass, the team that ended SC's lengthy district winning streak last season before the Cards exacted revenge in the playoffs.
Simon Kenton, Great Crossing and Franklin County follow at the Toyota Classic a week later.
“There’s a lot of people calling (for games) right now. They looked at that roster, one, and they saw a lot of youth. We had a lot of people call early and say, 'Hey, remember that game? You owe us a trip.' They're waiting on us,” Helton said of a schedule that also includes visits to Southwestern, Walton-Verona and Dunbar and home battles with Woodford County and George Rogers Clark.
“Our skill level is what bothers me. It's a huge drop-off. Obviously we're not the only team going through this, but we're the only team in our locker room going through it. I hate saying back to the drawing board, but I don't know what we can reconfigure, at least for the first month. But I'm too stubborn to give up.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Scott County Cardinals
1 Allison Mosby, 5-8 freshman guard
2 Maleiyah Moore, 5-7 sophomore guard
3 Belle Banner, 5-6 8th grade guard
4 Kierstin Young, 5-10 8th grade wing
5 Kenady Tompkins, 6-1 senior forward
10 Megan Mosby, 5-2 freshman guard
11 Kenzlee Callison, 5-5 freshman guard
13 Emma Price, 5-6 senior guard
14 Sophie Risher, 5-7 freshman forward
20 Molly Bragg, 5-6 freshman guard
22 Kelsie Hall, 5-5 junior guard
23 Brianna Penney, 5-5 senior guard
30 Dymon Percell, 5-7 8th grade guard
31 Amari Mobley, 5-6 sophomore forward
34 Melanie McClanahan, 6-0 junior fwd.
35 Tyra Yoing, 5-8 junior forward
44 Edelyn Thompson, 5-6 freshman fwd.
Head coach and Athletic Director: Steve Helton
JV coach: Tara Helton
Assistants: Breona Taul, Madison Crum
Student assistants: Grace Moore, Adison Paul
Statisticians: Ashley Volpe, Tony Hall
Trainers: Dan Volpe, Ansley Swann
Principal: Elizabeth Gabehart
(home unless otherwise noted)
30 at North Laurel, 7:30 p.m.
3 Frederick Douglass, 7:30 p.m.
8 Simon Kenton, 6 p.m.
9 Great Crossing, 6 p.m.
11 Franklin County, 2:30 p.m.
18-21 Lexington Catholic tournament, TBA
30 at Holmes, 2:30 p.m.
5 at Paul Laurence Dunbar, 7:30 p.m.
6 at Madison Central, 7:30 p.m.
7 at Henry Clay, 7:30 p.m.
12 Scott High, 7:30 p.m.
14 Bryan Station, 7:30 p.m.
17 at Southwestern, 3:30 p.m.
21 at Frederick Douglass, 7:30 p.m.
24 Woodford County, 7:30 p.m.
25 Henry Clay, 7:30 p.m.
27 at Sayre, 6 p.m.
1 George Rogers Clark, 7:30 p.m.
2 at Bryan Station, 7:30 p.m.
4 Sayre, 6 p.m.
5 Corbin, 1:30 p.m.
7 at Walton-Verona, 7:30 p.m.
11 Berea, 7:30 p.m.
18 at Madison Southern (EKU), 6 p.m.
21-25 42nd District at Bryan Station
2/28-3/5 11th Region at EKU
3/9-3/13 KHSAA State at Rupp Arena