RICHMOND — As defending girls' 11th Region basketball champion, does Madison Central have an edge in experience and confidence going into this week's shoot-out in EKU's McBrayer Arena?
"I don't know. We've never been in this situation before," Indians Coach Robbie Cooksey said.
Madison Central won the region for the first time last year, and it returns several key players from that team, including junior standouts Larryn Brooks and Ashton Feldhaus, and senior Kristin Congleton.
"You have to have a lot of poise in this tournament because if you make a three-game run, you're going to face adversity along the way," Cooksey said. "Having been there and done it before, I think we've got some confidence and some leadership to get us through it."
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Cooksey said Brooks, Feldhaus and Congleton "set our tone and lead by their effort.
"Larryn gets us going at point guard. Ashton is a dual threat. She can post you up and can do things on the outside. And Kristin just works so hard rebounding and playing defense.
"But we've got five other girls who can help us through, too. That's one of our strengths."
Madison Central has the best record (26-4) in the region and has won 20 of its last 21 games, with the loss coming to No. 1 Manual.
But the Indians won't be the highest rated team in the region tournament.
Dave Cantrall's power ratings have Paul Laurence Dunbar at No. 11 in the state, one spot above the Indians.
Dunbar, under first-year coach Sarah Van Horn, has won 17 of its last 19 games. Both losses were to region rivals — Bryan Station and Madison Central.
Dunbar was at its best when it ripped Lexington Catholic 71-46 in the 43rd District finals. Morgan McEldowney was 6-for-6 on three-pointers, and guards Kierra Muhammad and Jordin Fender were terrific on defense.
"I don't challenge just our guards to pressure. I challenge players one through five to pressure the basketball. That's why we come up with so many turnovers," Van Horn said.
"I think that's what makes us so special. Our up-tempo, man-to-man defense for four quarters wears other teams out."
Dunbar plays Scott County in Monday night's opening round. The Bulldogs beat Scott County 79-59 in the first week of the season.
Madison Central faces No. 25 Lexington Catholic in its first-round game Tuesday night. The Indians struggled to beat Lexington Catholic 45-43 last month.
Cooksey said it may be a good thing that his team drew a formidable foe in its region opener.
"Our kids know they've got to show up and play," he said. "There's some motivation there. They know it's a one-game-at-a-time scenario, and that anything can happen."
Madison Central beat Lexington Catholic 61-49 in the first round of last year's region tournament.