Franklin County’s three-year reign over the 11th Region is about to end. At least, if preseason rankings can be taken to heart.
The girls’ basketball coaches in the 11th Region elected Scott County as the team to beat for the 2017-18 season. The Cardinals have won a region title just once since coming over to the 11th Region from the 8th Region in the 2005-06 season, in 2010, but bring their three leading scorers — Peyton Riddle (19.7 ppg), Maaliya Owens (16.9) and Morgan DeFoor (12.5) — back from a team that reached the regional semifinals last season.
Riddle, a senior considered among the top 25 players statewide in the preseason, has committed to Eckerd College while Owens (junior) and DeFoor (sophomore) are receiving Division I interest. Scott County also will have back Juliette Smith, a junior who averaged 14 points as a freshman but sat out her sophomore season with an ACL injury. Malea Williams, a 6-2 sophomore, has the length to be one of the most disruptive defenders in the region by season’s end.
“We have a lot of the pieces to have a successful season,” said Coach Steve Helton, who’s led the program along with his wife, Tara, since 2000. “We have skill, athleticism, size and depth. We need to stay healthy and be playing well at the right time.”
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Names to follow
Terri Abram and Caroline Bennett, Lafayette: These teammates were named All-City second-teamers as juniors and helped lead the Generals, tabbed as the second-best team in the region this preseason, to the most recent 11th Region championship game. Bennett knocked down nearly 40 percent of her attempts from behind the three-point arc while Abram will start her third straight season at point guard.
Jay Ballard, Lexington Catholic: Knights Coach Scott True thinks he has his deepest roster since he arrived at the school in 2012, and it’s Ballard who’s at the forefront. As a sophomore she averaged 14.5 points and was a 40 percent shooter from long range.
Mashayla Cecil, Paul Laurence Dunbar: A couple of seasons ago the 11th Region yielded two finalists for Mr. Basketball; the same could happen for Miss Basketball with Scott County’s Riddle and Cecil. Cecil is waiting to see how her senior season plays out before making a college choice. She’s a “big-time performer in clutch situations,” Dunbar Coach Nick Runyon said of Cecil, who averaged 18 points and three assists for the Bulldogs as a junior.
Delaney Enlow, Woodford County: The 6-foot sophomore shattered Woodford County’s single-season record for rebounding with 438 last season; the previous record was 334. She averaged a double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds) and led the Yellow Jackets back to the 11th Region Tournament after missing out in 2016.
Peyton Riddle, Scott County: The Cardinals’ leading scorer from a year ago is an early front-runner for 11th Region Player of the Year honors. She crossed the 1,000-point mark for her career last season, when she was an All-State honorable mention, and has played in five 11th Region tournaments as a Cardinal.
Kindall Talley, Franklin County: An All-State honorable mention last season after playing in her second straight state championship game with Franklin County. Talley averaged 11 points through four Sweet Sixteen games last season, good for fifth among returning players who played in the tournament. She’s also a standout shortstop on the softball field.
Kiya Thompson, Henry Clay: The Blue Devils’ leading scorer (11 ppg) from last season was a second-team All-City selection as a sophomore. “We’re small but we’re fast, I think,” Thompson said in the preseason. “That’s our advantage.”
Bailee Vanover, Madison Central: Vanover is the Indians’ lone returning starter from a team that won 24 games and upset Dunbar in the 11th Region Tournament. The 5-foot-6 point guard boasts a 4.3 GPA and averaged 10 points, five boards and four assists last year. She’ll start for a fourth straight season.
Dee Dee Wheeler, Sayre: She’s been a steady presence for Sayre, where she’s played since she was in sixth grade. Now a senior, Wheeler, Sayre’s leading returning scorer with 11.4 points per game, will look to lead the Spartans to their fourth trip to the All “A” Classic state tournament in the previous five seasons.
Henry Clay at Frederick Douglass (Nov. 28): The Broncos kick off their inaugural season with a home date against a 42nd District rival. The newest program in the 11th Region is coached by a man who’s no stranger to the city — Shawn Ransom, who spent the last five seasons at Bryan Station, where he led the Defenders to the 11th Region finals in 2016. “It’s a sweet opportunity,” Ransom said of taking the reins at Douglass. “You get a chance to build your program from the ground up. It kind of reminds me of my first couple years at Bryan Station, just trying to set the mold for the program. I’m excited to be here. We’re super young but we’re super excited. Hopefully we can make some noise over here.”
Lafayette at Franklin County (Dec. 5): The 11th Region pecking order could be clearer after this rematch of the region finals. It’s the second game for the Flyers, who open against Collins, and the fourth game for the Generals, who will have played Tates Creek, Southwestern and Shelby County.
Traditional Bank Holiday Classic (Dec. 19-23 at Lexington Catholic): Dunbar and Scott County are part of this field in addition to the host Knights. The Bulldogs start off against Simon Kenton, the preseason No. 7 team in the state, and would get No. 4 Clark County in the second round if they win that one. Scott County, ranked 10th overall in the preseason, has a first-round bye and a favorable path to the state semifinals, where it could meet No. 3 Male.
Madison Central vs. Woodford County (Dec. 28 at Garrard County): These two sit just outside of the top five in the 11th Region preseason rankings. They’ll face off in the opening round of the Elite Insurance Solutions Lady Lions Classic. It’s Steve Jaco’s first season on the sidelines for Woodford County, previously led by Jay Lucas the last 21 years.
Toyota Classic (Jan. 17-20 at Scott County): The Cardinals are scheduled to play No. 7 Simon Kenton, No. 23 Ryle (which features UK target Maddie Scherr) and No. 24 Perry County Central — all potential Sweet Sixteen teams — as part of their annual round-robin event.
Dunbar vs. Lafayette: The 43rd District favorites meet twice in the regular season: at Lafayette on Jan. 4 (7:30 p.m.) and at Dunbar on Jan. 23 (6 p.m.).
Bryan Station vs. Tates Creek: Both programs are being guided by fresh faces: Brian Hall is in his first year with the Defenders after coaching Estill County the previous three seasons while Creek is led by Matthew Yates, who was most recently the head girls’ coach at Morton Middle School after boys’ head coaching jobs at West Jessamine, Model, Danville and Frankfort. They’ll meet on Dec. 18 at Creek and Feb. 16 at Station.
11th Region preseason rankings
(Rankings derived from preseason ballots submitted by 11th Region coaches; 2016-17 record in parentheses)
1. Scott County (20-10)
2. Lafayette (24-10)
3. Franklin County (33-6)
4. Paul Laurence Dunbar (19-12)
5. Henry Clay (15-16)
6. Madison Central (24-10)
7. Woodford County (14-19)
8. Lexington Catholic (12-16)
9. Frederick Douglass (inaugural season)
10. Bryan Station (12-17)
11. Western Hills (16-13)
12. Lexington Christian (7-20)
13. Madison Southern (9-22)
14. Sayre (19-8)
15. Berea (9-19)
16. Tates Creek (6-25)
17. Frankfort (9-20)
18. Model (7-20)