Mercy Academy last season was on the wrong side of a historically lopsided girls’ basketball championship game, but taking one on the chin might just pay off.
The Jaguars — who fell to two-time defending champion Mercer County, 74-34, in the finals in March — were ranked first in the Herald-Leader’s preseason survey of girls’ basketball coaches for 2018-19. Ta’Ziah Jenks, a preseason top-five player who averaged 16 points and 7.2 rebounds as a sophomore, will look to lead Mercy’s defense of the 6th Region title; the Jaguars have not repeated as a region champ since 1992, when they won their first state title as a member of the 7th Region.
Clark County, the two-time defending 10th Region champ, was the second-leading vote-getter. The Cardinals reached the Sweet Sixteen semifinals last season, also falling to Mercer County, and return four of their five starters from last year’s state tournament.
Ryle, the reigning 9th Region titlist, was ranked third by the coaches. Sacred Heart and Scott County rounded out the top five at fourth and fifth, respectively.
Preseason girls’ top 10 teams
(Last season’s record in parentheses)
1. Mercy (25-10): Four of the Jaguars’ top four scorers return this season, among them Sydney Rivette, who along with fellow senior Jalyn Shorter will be recovering from ACL surgery until January. Jenks has reported offers from several colleges, including WKU, Marshall and Xavier.
2. Clark County (28-8): Senior Hayley Harrison and junior Kennedy Igo were both ranked in the preseason top 10 by the coaches, making Clark County one of two programs with that distinction this season. The Cardinals are hunting for their first state title, and the second ever by a 10th Region champion; Nicholas County’s in 1993 is so far the only one.
3. Ryle (29-7): The Raiders are the other program that can wave the “two top-10 players” flag, thanks to Lauren Schwartz (a senior committed to Rice University) and junior Maddie Scherr, a top-25 national recruit and a favorite to win Miss Basketball in 2020.
4. Sacred Heart (29-6): Mercer County was the only in-state team to hand the Valkyries a loss last season — and Sacred Heart was the only one to get the Titans, later — before Manual spoiled their bid for a state title in the finals of the 7th Region Tournament. Sacred Heart lost nine seniors, including now-Indiana-freshman Grace Berger, but is a program that can always be counted on to be in the mix.
5. Scott County (31-3): The Cardinals won 21 straight games before Manual held their state-best offense (78.2 ppg) to only 45 points in a first-round defeat at state. Leading scorer Peyton Riddle graduated, but a stout quartet led by Miss Basketball challenger Maaliya Owens (15.6 ppg, 5.7 rebounds as a junior) should ease the pain.
6. Lincoln County (24-7): With Mercer County expected to take a step back in the 12th Region, most think it’s the Patriots’ turn to take the reins. They gave the Titans all they wanted in a 67-64 semifinals loss in last year’s region tournament and played several top-10 teams close throughout last season. They also have Miss Basketball favorite Emma King, a University of Kentucky commit.
7. Elizabethtown (34-3): Clark County ended an impressive season by the Panthers, who handed Mercy its biggest defeat last season prior to the state finals (80-49 at Mercy). Whitney Hay, a junior who’s been offered by several mid-major programs, is E-town’s only immediate returning starter but the Panthers hope to see Leikyn Walker (12 points, five rebounds as a junior) return from ACL surgery late in the season.
8. Boyd County (29-5): Miss Basketball contender Savannah Wheeler — a Marshall commit who led the state in three-point makes last season and is this year’s only returning first-team All-State selection — grabs the headlines but sophomore Harley Paynter is a budding star as well; she averaged 14.7 points as a freshman, has an offer from WKU and has taken an unofficial visit to UK.
9. Owensboro Catholic (27-8): The Aces have won four of the eight 3rd Region championship games played this decade but haven’t repeated as the region champ since going back-to-back in 1985 and 1986. Tennessee Tech commit Mackenzie Keelin, who led Owensboro Catholic with 13.5 ppg last season, will lead an experienced group looking to end that streak.
10. Butler (24-5): A good bet? Either Mercy or Butler is winning the 6th Region this year, as one of the two has won the region title each year since 2010 (the Bearettes have the edge, 6-3). Jasmine Elder, a 5-foot-9 senior who’s committed to Indiana State, averaged 13.1 ppg last season and 5-8 senior Jaida Wiggins was right behind her at 11.1 ppg.
The next 15
With result of final contest last season.
11. Male (23-9): Lost to Sacred Heart in semifinals of 7th Region Tournament.
12. Mercer County (36-3): Won second straight state championship.
13. South Laurel (26-6): Lost to Harlan County in semifinals of 13th Region Tournament.
14. Manual (22-9): Lost to Boyd County in quarterfinals of state tournament.
15. Anderson County (27-6): Lost to Simon Kenton in finals of 8th Region Tournament.
16. Campbell County (29-4): Lost to Clark County in semifinals of 10th Region Tournament.
17. Casey County (26-7): Lost to Mercer County in finals of 12th Region Tournament.
18. Murray (32-3): Lost to Mercer County in first round of state tournament.
19. Simon Kenton (20-11): Lost to Ryle in first round of state tournament.
20. Eastern (20-8): Lost to Manual in semifinals of 7th Region Tournament.
21. Johnson Central (20-13): Lost to Owensboro Catholic in first round of state tournament.
22. Christian Academy of Louisville (11-16): Lost to Ballard in 28th District Tournament.
23. Conner (23-9): Lost to Holmes in semifinals of 9th Region Tournament.
24. Paul Laurence Dunbar (22-10): Lost to Scott County in semifinals of 11th Region Tournament.
25. Assumption (11-20): Lost to Manual in first round of 7th Region Tournament.
Our annual survey was emailed to all 267 KHSAA girls’ basketball coaches in Kentucky, using their email registered with the KHSAA. Multiple attempts were made to encourage every school to participate. Coaches were asked to select their top 10 teams, and points were assigned based on a team’s position on the ballot (10 points for No. 1, nine points for No. 2, eight points for No. 3, etc.), and tabulated across all ballots received; some schools participated in the survey but declined to vote due to unfamiliarity with players and teams outside of their own.
A total of 111 schools (41.6 percent) responded to the survey and are recognized here: Adair County, Allen County-Scottsville, Anderson County, Ashland Blazer, Assumption, Ballard, Barren County, Bath County, Bell County, Bellevue, Bethlehem, Bishop Brossart, Boone County, Bourbon County, Bowling Green, Boyd County, Boyle County, Brown, Bryan Station, Butler, Calloway County, Campbellsville, Carroll County, Caverna, Central Hardin, Christian County, Clark County, Clay County, Clinton County, Collins, Cooper, Corbin, Danville, East Carter, Elizabethtown, Elliott County, Fern Creek, Floyd Central, Fort Knox, Franklin County, Frederick Douglass, Gallatin County, Garrard County, Glasgow, Graves County, Grayson County, Green County, Henderson County, Henry Clay, Henry County, Highlands, Hopkinsville, Kentucky School for the Deaf, Knott County Central, Knox Central, Lafayette, Leslie County, Lexington Catholic, Lincoln County, Lloyd Memorial, Ludlow, Madisonville, Manual, Mason County, McCracken County, McCreary Central, Menifee County, Mercer County, Mercy Academy, Montgomery County, Morgan County, Murray, Nelson County, North Bullitt, Notre Dame Academy, Owensboro Catholic, Owsley County, Paintsville, Paris, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Pendleton County, Pike County Central, Portland Christian, Prestonsburg, Pulaski County, Rockcastle County, Rowan County, Russell, Russell County, Ryle, Sacred Heart, Scott, Scott County, Shelby County, Shelby Valley, Simon Kenton, South Laurel, South Oldham, South Warren, Spencer County, St. Mary, Tates Creek, Thomas Nelson, Valley, Walton-Verona, Wayne County, Webster County, West Jessamine, Whitley County, Williamstown, Woodford County