DRAFFENVILLE – The past two seasons, Marshall County has returned to the pinnacle of First Region basketball, with two straight trips to the Sweet Sixteen, the 20th and 21st in school history.
The Lady Marshals have gone 54-19 last two seasons, with 27 wins each year.
There’s no guarantee that will extend to a third straight region title and 22nd trip to the state tournament this season, and opponents will be gunning to make sure that does not happen, coach Joseph Simmons knows.
“If you read all the pre-season rankings and listen to people talk, a lot of people think it’s pretty simple to keep winning and doing what we’re doing,” Simmons said. “But it’s tough any year to try to win a championship, much less when you’ve won back to back.”
Simmons is working to get his players to focus on what it will take to win a third straight region title, rather than obsessing with the goal itself.
“We really don’t talk about that a whole lot, about winning it three years in a row, because each year is different,” the fourth-year coach said.
“Each team is different, and that couldn’t be any more true than this year. I’ve got 14 freshman. We’ve only got eight returners, eight upperclassmen, only four that have played many meaningful minutes in varsity. So, we’re really a young team from an experience standpoint.”
It could be January or even early February before the team comes together, Simmons said.
But he added, “It’s always good to be the one everybody’s chasing. We’ve been trying to get that tag back since we’ve been here, and it’s always good to be in that position because that says a lot about your program and where you’re at and how much work the kids have put in.”
Simmons welcomes back a key member of the 2012 team who missed all of last season because of knee surgery. Allie York, a 5-9 forward, averaged 11.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
The only other senior on the team is Toni Fehrenbacher, who played a supporting role last year with Taylor Meadows and Mariah McKenty doing the bulk of the scoring for the team.
Fehrenbacher is one of those indispensable players, Simmons said
“If we need her to score, she can,” he said. “She’s a grinder. She’s gonna get in there and hustle, get extra possessions for you. You can’t put a price tag on a player like that.”
The two seniors will lead by example, not verbally, Simmons said.
“How well we do this year is gonna depend on how far our seniors take us,” he said. “I’m not worried from a leadership standpoint. They’re great leaders.”
Bailey Greer started most games last year as a sophomore at point guard and averaged 6.6 points per game. Alyssa Barnard, also a junior this year, was a part-time starter last year and contributed 5.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Beyond the two seniors and those two players, there’s not a wealth of experience, Simmons said, but there are several players, including juniors Melissa Ross and Michaela Manley and sophomore Nikki Fehrenbacher, who got a fair amount of playing time last year and whose contributions will be vital this season.
And there is a deep collection of freshmen, from which Simmons is waiting to see varsity material emerge.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got the pieces of the puzzle to have a successful season. It’s just gonna take time. It’s a work in progress.”
The past two years, Simmons noted, the Lady Marshals were not singular favorites among First Region teams, with Murray High and Paducah Tilghman promising to be powerhouses.
Last year, preseason rankings that put Marshall County at the top came out before York was lost for the season.
“We’ve kind of played the underdog role,” Simmons said.
“Now it’s time to see how we play as the hunted.”
The season begins with a trip to Ballard Memorial on Dec. 3, followed by the 18th annual Marshall County Hoop Fest at Reed Conder Gymnasium on Dec. 19-21.
The Lady Marshals will play a pair of Illinois schools, Massac County and Mount Vernon.