One thing you notice immediately about the Clark County girls’ basketball team: They play a lot of man-to-man defense, a rarity among their competitors.
When asked what they liked most about playing man, freshman point guard Kennedy Igo looked over at her teammate a bit puzzled.
“Do we like playing man?” she asked, half-joking, of sophomore Maleaha Bell.
Bell responded: “I like man-to-man, it creates a lot more steal opportunities. We work so much on it in practice, it’s just second nature.”
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Igo didn’t seem convinced. “We push the ball on offense … we could get a little break (and play zone) sometimes,” she said, laughing.
Kidding aside, Coach Robbie Graham, who took the Cardinals to the girls’ Sweet Sixteen semifinals in 2014, likes what he sees from this season’s 22-4 team. Graham is in his fifth season at Clark County and got his 100th win against Lexington Catholic last week. Victory 101 came in an 80-40 Senior Day blowout of Madison Southern on Friday.
“They’ve learned to play hard. That’s the biggest thing with young kids, you’ve got to learn to compete all the time,” Graham said. “They’re starting to get that: competing hard in practice, competing hard in games. You’re going to make mistakes, but you’ve got to play hard all the time.”
Clark County lost its first two games in the finals of back-to-back holiday tournaments, one to 5th Region power Nelson County and one to 9th Region contender Conner. Its other losses — to 10th Region rivals Mason County and Scott — came down to the last few possessions.
“We’ve improved from start to finish,” Graham said of his Cardinals, who are 13th in Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State. “We’ve had a few bumps along the way. That’s part of growing. We knew we weren’t going to go undefeated. That wasn’t our goal to go undefeated. We just want to get better each and every day. I know it’s an old cliché coaches say, but we really want to get better and kind of be peaking come tournament time.”
Igo, one of three newcomers to Clark County, leads the Cardinals in scoring at 11.8 points per game. As their top playmaker, she finishes fast breaks with pinpoint passes for layups.
“I had to learn how they played to help me help them,” Igo said. “Once we all started working together and finding out how each other played, it just sort of clicked.”
Fellow newcomers She’Maya Behanan, a junior, and Hayley Harrison, a sophomore, each contribute 10.1 points per game. Sophomore Jasmine Flowers, who has been battling an illness, chips in 10.6 points per game. Combine that with 6-foot-3 senior Elizabeth Hardiman in the post and senior forward Kylee Murray’s energy off the bench and you begin to see a team that should contend for the 10th Region title.
“It’s good because I’ve got such good kids,” Graham said. “We get along so well. It’s a joy to come to practice. Bus rides are a joy. It’s just a good group of kids that get along so well together, and that’s very gratifying, because I’ve been around teams where coming to practice is a chore, at times.”
Clark County faces a chore Monday as it hosts perennial 11th Region contender Lafayette, which is on a four-game winning streak despite having standout forward Kiara Pankins out on concussion protocol. The Cardinals then go to Bryan Station as the final tune-up for the 40th District tournament where they are the top seed.
“The season’s progressed pretty good,” Graham said. We feel like we’ve gotten better each and every week. We talk about climbing the mountain as our motto for the year. We want to keep climbing that mountain every day, every practice, every drill. Just keep climbing the mountain.”
Lafayette at Clark County