Can Mercer County be toppled?
That’s the question on the minds of many as the 2017-18 girls’ basketball season gets underway. The defending champions return four of the five players who started in last year’s Sweet Sixteen championship game, including Miss Basketball frontrunner Seygan Robins, and are the preseason No. 1 team according to coaches around the state.
But, the Titans need only to look at Butler’s 2016-17 season to see how difficult repeating can be. The Bearettes brought a star-studded class of seniors back from the 2016 finals and got knocked off in the state quarterfinals. Mercer has earned its status as the preseason favorite, but challengers exist.
The Herald-Leader’s preseason rankings were derived from ballots submitted by coaches during an annual survey. A total of 82 schools returned surveys to the Herald-Leader, but some schools who participated declined to vote due to unfamiliarity with players and teams outside of their own. A complete list of schools that returned surveys is also below.
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Preseason Top 25 teams
(Team’s 2016-17 record in parentheses)
1. Mercer County (31-6): In addition to University of Louisville signee Robins, four other Titans — Emma Davis, Faith Lake, Lexy Lake and Emmy Souder — will play college basketball. Davis (Tennessee-Martin) and Souder (Northern Kentucky) signed with Division I schools while the Lake twins are headed to Campbellsville University after shying away from Division I offers.
2. Sacred Heart (29-6): Coaches pegged the four-time state champions (1976, 2002-2004) as the most-likely usurper of Mercer County’s throne. The Valkyries have three Division I signees in Grace Berger (Indiana), Cierra Scott (Mercer) and Kia Sivils (Marshall), along with senior Natalie Fichter, who’s headed to Indiana-Southeast in the River States Conference.
3. Male (29-3): The Bulldogs will duke it out with Sacred Heart for the 7th Region title. The two didn’t meet last season, but Male is 2-0 versus the Valkyries under head coach Champ Ligon, who once upon a time coached the Bryan Station boys.
4. Clark County (30-5): The Cardinals won 11 straight games before they ran into Mercer County in the state quarterfinals last season. Kennedy Igo shot 43 percent from three-point territory last season and led the Cardinals with 12.7 points per game as a freshman.
5. Butler (33-3): Losing six seniors who’d been around for two state titles did not squash expectations for the Bearettes entering this season. They’ve played in the 6th Region finals in nine of the previous 10 seasons; Butler is 7-2 in those appearances.
6. Murray (29-6): First-year head coach Wyatt Foust went 54-35 as the head coach at Notre Dame Academy from 2013-2016 before serving as a boys’ assistant at Owensboro Catholic last season. He succeeded Rechelle Turner, who left for the vacant women’s head coaching job down the street at Murray State University.
7. Simon Kenton (28-7): The Pioneers eye their third 8th Region title in the last four seasons and back-to-back titles for the first time since 2008-2009. They’re in line to play two-thirds of their games away from home this season, with four of their 10 scheduled home dates coming in February.
8. Mercy (16-15): In the last eight seasons, the Jaguars are the only program to have won the 6th Region other than Butler, doing so twice (2013 and 2015). 6-foot-3 senior Danielle Feldkamp is Bellarmine-bound while sophomore TaZiah Jenks, 6-1, has multiple Division I offers.
9. Manual (23-8): As was the case in 2016, three 7th Region teams find themselves in the preseason top 10. Manual has had the most title success among it, Male and Sacred Heart in the last decade, winning half the region championships in that time and the state title in 2012.
10. Scott County (20-10): The Cardinals haven’t been able to get out of the 11th Region since 2010, the only time they’ve won that region. They won four in the 8th Region, out of which they won the state tournament in 1995.
Coaches’ next 15: 11. Harlan County (28-3), 12. Campbell County (20-13), 13. Holmes (29-6), 14. Conner (27-7), 15. Lincoln County (23-9), 16. Franklin County (33-6), 17. Boyd County (26-9), 18. Elizabethtown (28-4), 19. Owensboro Catholic (19-14), 20. Christian County (17-14), 21. Henderson County (28-6), 22. Paintsville (28-5), 23. Ryle (15-16), 24. Perry County Central (21-5), 25. Bullitt East (27-8).
Schools that returned surveys: Allen County-Scottsville, Ashland Blazer, Augusta, Bath County, Bethlehem, Bourbon County, Bowling Green, Boyle County, Calloway County, Campbell County, Campbellsville, Carroll County, Central, Christian County, Clark County, Clay County, Clinton County, Collins, Covington Holy Cross, Danville, East Ridge, Edmonson County, Elizabethtown, Fairdale, Franklin County, Garrard County, Glasgow, Graves County, Grayson County, Green County, Greenup County, Hazard, Henderson County, Henry Clay, Holmes, Hopkinsville, Jackson City, John Hardin, Johnson Central, Knott County Central, Lexington Catholic, Lexington Christian, Madison Central, Marion County, Mason County, McCreary Central, Mercer County, Mercy, Monroe County, Montgomery County, Morgan County, Murray, Nicholas County, North Bullitt, North Laurel, Owensboro Catholic, Paintsville, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Pendleton County, Perry County Central, Pike County Central, Pulaski County, Russell County, Ryle, Sacred Heart, Sayre, Scott, Scott County, Shawnee, Shelby County, Shelby Valley, Simon Kenton, Somerset, South Laurel, Spencer County, St. Mary, Tates Creek, Waggener, Wayne County, West Jessamine, Western Hills, Woodford County.