RICHMOND — Of all the Kentucky high schools to have played in the Girls' Sweet Sixteen over nearly half a century, none has been named Madison Central.
Madison Central won its first 11th Region championship Saturday, earning a trip to the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls State Basketball Tournament in Bowling Green.
Although the tournament opened Wednesday, the Indians (23-9) will be traveling Thursday after a morning shootaround in Richmond. They will take on 12th Region champion Rockcastle County at 7:30 EST Thursday night.
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"We're trying to make them as comfortable as possible," said Coach Robert Cooksey, who opted to have his players in the comfort of home Wednesday night rather than at Western Kentucky University's Diddle Arena. "We're trying to come down from such an emotional high on Saturday that we want to make things as normal as possible, so when we walk in there Thursday we're ready to play."
Saturday's "high" came from an 85-72 victory over Scott County in the region finals.
"We've been living the dream," said Larryn Brooks, a 5-foot-5 sophomore, averaging 12.5 points, but who scored 31 in the title game. "It's amazing."
The Indians have basked in the glow day by day.
"It's a great feeling to know you're always going to be remembered here by everyone, knowing you're the first team" to win the region, said Kristin Congleton, a 5-10 junior who leads the team with 7.9 rebounds a game. "It's just a great achievement."
There are decorations inside and outside of the school.
"It's just something that you can't really explain. It's just a good feeling inside. ... Everybody's excited," said Erika Parks, a 5-6 senior starter. "The whole school is supporting us. They're all behind us, ready to go on Thursday with us and support us."
Tuesday, the team was saluted during visits to three middle schools. Wednesday was much the same at the county elementary schools.
"They just showed a lot of pride, and it meant so much to the team," said Jenna Cornelison, a 5-9 senior who leads the team in scoring with 16.3 per game. "We brought our cheerleaders, and the band started doing the fight song. That always gives me cold chills."
Ashton Feldhaus, a 5-11 sophomore starter and daughter of Central boys' coach Allen Feldhaus, said she didn't know what to expect when the team made its first visit, to B. Michael Caudill Middle School.
"We walked in the gym and ... there were about 20 or 30 of them making a 'tunnel' for us," she said. The rest of the students "were standing up cheering. I thought it was awesome."
Central came close to reaching the Sweet Sixteen last year, eliminated in the region semifinals with a 28-2 record.
"We didn't feel like we played a tough enough schedule last year," said Cooksey, a 1991 Central graduate, "so we really beefed the schedule up this year. We thought (a region title) was doable. I won't lie to you — I thought at the beginning of the season it was doable."
But is there more "doable" in Bowling Green?
"We want them to realize how special it is, but we also want to go down there and we want to play ball," Cooksey said. "We've talked about being the first team to do this here at Madison Central — 'hey, we're going to put our picture up on the (gymnasium) wall.'
"I said it's going to say '2011 11th Region champions.' But what it says below it is up to you. It can say 'Sweet Sixteen semifinalists, Sweet Sixteen runner-up, Sweet Sixteen state champion.' Or maybe it just says '11th Region champions.'
"We've got some other possibilities that we're shooting for. We're not unlike any of the other 16 teams. We want to win it just as bad as anybody else."