The Middlesboro Lady Jackets surprised some people last year. After winning just four games during the 2014-15 season, the Lady Jackets improved their win total to 13 and pushed a couple top-tier teams to the brink.
This year, Middlesboro hopes to build on that success while also replacing some key starters from a year ago.
“We’re in that murderous district with Harlan and Harlan County. On any given night, one can beat the other,” said Lady Jacket coach Ron Edwards. “Our season is going to be pretty competitive.”
Several teams were got caught sleeping when they battled the Lady Jackets last year. Despite a dismal 2014 season, Middlesboro proved that they were not a team to be taken lightly. The Lady Jackets finished the year with a 13-17 record and were four points shy of defeating region champion Harlan in the first round of the district tournament.
Middlesboro started the season strong winning eight of their first 11 games. The run easily eclipsed the team’s entire win total from the previous year. That stretch included double-digit victories over Barbourville, McCreary Central (2), Red Bird, Pineville and Hancock County, Tennessee.
The run slowed as the Lady Jackets entered January and the district portion of their schedule. Two of the Middlesboro’s most impressive outings came in close losses to Bell County and Harlan.
The Lady Jackets pushed then-defending region champion Bell County to the brink in 50-49 double overtime loss. Middlesboro almost did it again in the first round of the district tournament when Harlan narrowly escaped the Lady Jackets in a 32-29 defensive victory.
Middlesboro graduated three seniors from the team including All-SEKC guards Bailey Hensley and Erica Gambrel.
“It’s hard to lose those two guards,” said Edwards. “They were two wonderful guards that got after you.”
Middlesboro will also miss center Lauren Spurlock, who created a much needed post presence for the team throughout the year.
The Lady Jackets are bringing back a mix of experience and youth to the court for the 2016-17 campaign. Edwards said they hadn’t officially nailed down a starting lineup following the SEKC Panorama.
“We’re still tinkering with it,” said Edwards. “Once we get going and learn the offense, we might be able to go seven maybe eight deep.”
Two players that will likely retain their place in the starting lineup are Baylie Brunsma and Hannah Warren. The two upperclassmen are the only returning starters to the lineup. Both players played substantial minutes during the panorama with Brunsma being one of Middlesboro’s leading scorers.
Malorie Carter will also be looking to earn a spot in the starting rotation. The junior was sidelined during some games throughout the season due to injury. She was a starter during the panorama.
One player who has big shoes to fill is Baylee Woody. The sophomore seems to be the favorite to start at point guard, a position that was vacated with the exit of Hensley.
“Baylee’s done some nice things,” said Edwards. “She’s got to get a little more confidence and play under control and learn to run the offense. She’s working hard and getting better everyday.”
Jane Millett also returns to the team after spending a year at Cumberland Gap.
“That’s a big plus for (her to come back). It’s nothing but upside with Jane,” said Edwards. “Jane’s kind of on the small side, but you just have to learn. We’re looking at moving Jane and playing her in different spots. She’s a plus for us that we’re looking at down the road.”
Aubrey Sowders looks to receive ample playing time in the rotation as well.
The Lady Jackets kick off their regular season at home on Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. meeting against Lynn Camp.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN