The Pineville Lady Lions had their best season since the 70s last year. An eight game winning streak from the end of January through February helped propel the team to a historic 22-8 record, tied for the most in school history.
On top of that, the team advanced to the regional tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 season and won their first district championship since the 2009-10 season.
The Lady Lions will look to make it back-to-back trips to the region as they return three starters and a group of players that received ample playing time a year ago.
The 2015-16 season
Pineville came close to breaking the all-time school record for wins in a season last year with an overall record of 22-8, good enough to tie the record before falling in the 13th Region tournament to South Laurel.
“We had a good year. We kept improving as the year went on, and we got beat in the first round of the region to South Laurel — who is a good team,” said Lady Lion coach Jamie Mills.
The team shocked many as they went on win streak after win streak throughout the year. A five-game winning streak against Red Bird, Hancock County, Tennessee; McCreary Central, Cumberland Gap and Barbourville helped the Lady Lions began 2015 with a 9-3 record.
A spark caught fire at the end of January as Pineville finished the regular season 9-1 with the only loss coming to Bell County. The momentum carried over to the district tournament with the Lady Lions defeating Lynn Camp 68-59 and Knox Central 59-52 to claim the 51st District title.
It was the team’s first district title in five years. An appearance in the district title game also earned them a spot in the regional tournament.
The biggest difference during the 2016-17 campaign will be the loss of two seniors: Sophia Knuckles and Shayne Raftery. Knuckles averaged 7.4 points per game.
Raftery played a big part during the 2015-16 season. Her size alone altered several shots and made it difficult for teams to score in the post. She averaged 8.8 points while tallying 7.2 rebounds.
Pineville returns a decent group of core players from last year’s young team.
“We got a strong bunch back,” said Mills. “We got seven I see playing a lot. We’re working on our defense. I stress that every day to them. We got to stop the other team from scoring. That’s something we’re working on teamwise.”
“We had a big girl last year — 6-2 Shayne Raftery. She took care of all that for us. Now, it’s a team effort to stop somebody. Instead of having one person back there to block shots, we could take risk on the outside. We can’t do that now.”
Jillian Enix returns as the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. She averaged a team-high 13 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Sarah Combs and Autumn Short are the remaining two starters that return off last season’s team. Combs was the third leading scorer last year averaging 7.6 points from the point guard position. Short averaged 6.9 points while hauling in 5.8 rebounds.
Morgan Thompson will make her way into the starting rotation this season. She averaged 4.8 points off the bench last year. She proved to be strong defensively as well. The senior scored seven points during the recent SEKC Panorama.
Makenzie Fuson will likely take the lead in the post that was left vacant by Raftery. The junior saw limited minutes a year ago in 26 games, where she averaged 3.7 points and 2.3 rebounds off the bench. She scored four points during the panorama.
With Thompson moving into the starting lineup, Anna Howard — a junior guard — will likely step into the role as a key player off the bench. The remainder of the Lady Lions consists of six freshmen, one sophomore and two eighth-graders.
“The biggest thing for us is we had a great year last year, and I really do expect a better year this year,” said Mills. “I think they want one. I try to stress to them every day, you don’t just show up because you did good last year and expect it to happen again this year. You’re playing for your life, I feel, every time you’re out there.”
Mills said the team’s goal is to return to the regional tournament and compete.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN