BOWLING GREEN, KY -- Not eight, six or even four! Just a single school each year can claim to be the champion of girls’ basketball in the state of Kentucky. This year for the first time the champion was Marion County (39-0) of Lebanon, Kentucky.
A tradition as much as an event…
According to Joe Angolia, Communications Director of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA), Kentucky is the last state to hold a single class championship in the sport of girls’ basketball. The national trend in recent years has been to add more and more classes to separate private schools, whom the public schools often accuse of recruiting, and smaller schools, which claim they lack numbers to compete with similar but larger institutions. Only in football does Kentucky crown multiple state champions based on enrollment size.
How Teams Reach the Sweet 16…
The girls’ tournament annually brings together the winning teams from each of the designated sixteen regions of the state, thus the designation ‘Sweet 16’. A Kentucky girls champion was first crowned in 1920. The championship took a break from 1933 to 1974 and has been held annually since 1975, brought back in response to Title IX. Originally rotated amongst several cities, the championship has been held exclusively in Bowling Green starting in 2001, now sponsored by locally headquartered Houchens Industries. All member schools [approximately 280 minus a few all-boys schools] with a girls’ basketball team, regardless of school enrollment, are eligible to advance from the district level through a regional tournament to win one of the sixteen regional slots in the state tournament. Just getting to the Sweet 16 is considered a major honor and records are kept on regional winners through the years.
Sweet 16 not related to the All “A” Classic
The pressure for multiple classes in Kentucky has been relieved over the years by the All “A” Classic held in late January in Frankfort by a separate organization. That event allows the 120 smallest schools (currently 604 students or less according in grades 9-12) in the state to quality in a similar fashion to the above for sixteen slots in the field. The All “A” girls event, in existence in its current format since 1991, was won in January by Owensboro Catholic High School which later qualified for the Sweet 16. Success or failure in the All “A” event has no bearing on a team’s qualification in the KHSAA’s Sweet 16.
How have the smaller schools done in the Sweet 16?
Looking at current enrollment figures (which obviously differ year-to-year), from 1993 forward, it appears four of the likely All “A”-sized schools won a Sweet 16 game while two others finished second. In 2013 besides Owensboro Catholic, fellow All “A”-sized school Shelby Valley High School out of Pikeville, Kentucky, qualified for the Sweet 16. Both schools advanced to the second round before losing.
Looking briefly at the tournament semi-finals and final…
Semi-final #1: Marion County 72, Anderson County 49
Anderson County of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, came into the contest ranked No. 2 in the state with a record of 34-1. It was pretty evident from early on this was not to be their day. Marion led 29-19 at half with the game essentially over after three quarters with the score 56-27. Marion may have surprised Anderson by playing much more man-to-man defense rather than their predominant 2-3 zone as they feared the Anderson outside shooters, who only mustered 4/17 from behind the arc after shooting 9/14 and 5/14 in the first two rounds.
The stat sheet shows that Marion dominated with points the paint 40-to-30 and points off turnovers 16-to-8. The simple reality was that the Lady Knights were taller, quicker, more skilled and more experienced than Anderson’s Lady Bearcats which should again be one of the top teams in the state next year. For each contest a player of the game plaque is awarded and deservingly Marion’s Makayla Epps (more below) with 28 points and 7 assists took the honors here.
Semi-final #2: Notre Dame Academy 64, DuPont Manuel 60
Notre Dame’s Pandas out of Covington, Kentucky, brought few fans and no cheerleaders. They did bring a group of tough-minded players coached by former Xavier star Nicole Levandusky, who player for the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks in 2001. Throughout the tournament, the Panda defense regularly kept opponents off balance using man, 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 zones, plus throwing in some match-up principles. All this kept the more athletic DuPont Manuel out of sorts during this contest.
This semi-final was close from start to finish, tied at 17 after the first quarter; 28-26 Manuel at the half and 44-43 Manuel after three quarters. Less skilled offensively, Notre Dame survived shooting 1/14 from behind the arc by getting more shots via 17 offensive rebounds to Manuel’s nine and scoring 22 points off turnovers to the Lady Crimsons’ seven. Notre Dame junior guard Elly Ogle, who is verbally committed to LSU for volleyball, was selected as player of the game for her 16-point, 6-rebound and 4-steal effort. Manuel senior guard Morgan Allen led her team with 22 points including 5/8 from behind the arc. Post-game she indicated having no plans to play in college although she should be worthy of at least Division 2 level scholarship offers.
Retiring DuPont Manuel Coach Stacy Pendleton summed up Notre Dame when he said “they don’t look athletic but they are.”
#32 Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, #30 Logan Powell and #3 Makayla Epps of Marion County (Photo by Bob Corwin)
Championship: Marion County 52, Notre Dame Academy 36
An announced crowd of 6,259 was treated to a stirring rendition of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ followed by the National Anthem before the game performed by a local coral group followed by player introductions included a WNBA-worthy light show.
The game itself lacked drama as Notre Dame was outmatched in all areas but heart and defensive savvy. On top of that, the Pandas were likely the more tired club having three tough games prior to the final (played Saturday evening about seven hours after the completion of the Saturday morning semi-finals).
Marion led 31-18 at half dominating in points in the paint 20-to-10 and in transition 6-0. In the second half, the lead never got below 10 but the dogged Pandas held the Lady Knights to just 38.1 percent from the field as compared to allowing 46.2 percent in the first half and limited Marion to just two fast break points. Offensively, Notre Dame struggled all night shooting 31.8 percent from the field for the game. Makayla Epps once again led all scorers with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists on her way to being named tournament MVP. Notre Dame was led by 5-10 sophomore forward Haylee Smith (will be looking for a scholarship as a softball pitcher) with 12 points.
How good was Marion County this year?
In winning its first Sweet 16 after finishing second last year, the Lady Knights won all four games by 16 points or more. Earlier this season, the Lady Knights also garnered quality wins over Hathaway Brown (68-33, Ohio division 2 state champ) and Science Hill (61-58, Tennessee division 1 runner-up). Unfortunately, the county school board would not allow them to travel to out-of-state events so the team will have to be satisfied finishing with a consensus national top ten ranking. As to talent, the team had two high major signees plus four other players who will likely sign somewhere in non-major division one. Several long time observers of Kentucky girls’ basketball felt Marion County was one of the best teams from the state in the last decade.
Looking at some of the talent in the field...
Makayla Epps, 5-9, PG, Marion County High School, Lebanon, KY
The Kentucky signee, ranked No. 43 in the 2013 Full Court Fresh 50, was clearly the best player in the event. Over the four games, she averaged 22.8 points per game on 52.2 percent from the field along with 5.5 assists per game. When on the court she controlled the action scoring or assisting in the quarter court and most importantly helped her team get out on the fast break where Marion piled up a 32-2 advantage. While more of an offensive player, she contributed 2.25 steals per game on defense. All-in-all hers was a performance worthy of a high school All-American. Rightfully, she was chosen for the McDonald’s All-American game.
Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, 6-1, F, Marion County High School, Lebanon, KY
Marion County’s second Kentucky signee was somewhat up and down in this event scoring 19 and 16 in the first two contests but only 7 and 10 in the last two. She did most of her shooting along the baseline spotting up and in the lower half of the paint facing and posting up. Defensively she was very solid averaging 8.25 rebounds per game and 3.5 blocks per game. For her performance, she was selected for the all-tournament team.
Rebecca Greenwell, 6-1 G/F, Owensboro (KY) Catholic High School
The Duke signee (also MVP of last spring’s prestigious Boo Williams Invitational) admitted to playing at just 65 percent in an off-court interview having had right knee issues for some time. She had an A.C.L. tear in that knee about a year-and-a-half ago. In Bowling Green, she scored 32 points (8/17 from the field) with 12 rebounds versus Lincoln County. In the quarterfinal versus DuPont Manuel, she scored 30 points on just 10/27 from the field. In both games, she often was adjusting the knee brace or flexing the troubled knee to test its stability. The No. 8 ranked player in the 2013 Full Court Fresh 50 was chosen for both the McDonald’s and WBCA all-star games, after those events she plans to undergo surgery on the knee which hopefully will allow her to return to pre-injury form (more confidence on her drives and better lift on her jumpers) for her freshman year in Durham. For her efforts, she was an all-tournament selection.
Logan Powell, 5-9, F, Marion County High School, Lebanon, KY
It’s hard enough being Robin to Batman but this Norfolk State signee had to play the role of the third of the Lady Knights ‘Three Musketeers.’ Strongly built, Powell at first glance appears to be an undersized post player. However, she handles the ball pretty well and shot the 3 nicely (5/9 for the 4 games) contributing to her 11.5 points per game average. On the boards she checked in with a solid 7.25 rebounds per game and was Marion County’s third all-tournament team selection.
Olivia Voskuhl, 5-10, G/F, Notre Dame Academy, Covington, KY
In a post-game interview, the Cleveland State signee made it pretty clear that basketball was her passion as she was also chosen all-state as a soccer goalkeeper. Voskuhl’s fairly solid build is more what you might expect to find on a soccer field. However her movement is better that you might initially think and she showed an ability to make tough perimeter shots (averaging 15.75 points per game) while garnering all-tournament honors.
Makenzie Cann, 6-0, G, Anderson County High School, Lawrenceburg, KY
Cann, of medium-solid build, moves well for a player her size and probably will be a shooting guard at the next level. Like so many today, she is better shooting the three off the pass or driving all the way to the basket with the intermediate jumper appearing to still need the most work along with getting a bit physically tougher. In the first two games of the event, Cann showed she is an above average passer with six and 10 assists, but she was unable to post one versus the stiff Marion County defense and her three-point attempts seemed to move further from the arc than in prior games. Playing on the Kentucky Premier club team with Epps and Goodin-Rogers, she seemed to give them a lot of respect (maybe too much so) as her 18 points, 12 rebound performance masked a bit of tentativeness. Still, her 15.3 points per game performance got her on to the all-tournament team. Currently she has offers from Cincinnati and several mid majors including Eastern and Western Kentucky and Lipscomb.
Eriel McKee, 5-10, F, Anderson County High School, Lawrenceburg, KY
After having solid 27 and 24 point performances in the events’ first two contests, she slipped to 4 points on 2/13 from the field versus Marion County. After having shown decent mid-range shooting and driving abilities, this athlete appeared to bail out on a number of her drives as if psyched out by her former summer ball teammates on the Marion County squad. She still needs to strength her handles and add some consistency to her range. On the plus side, one regionally-based division one coach said this was the best multiple-game performance he had seen from McKee, who was an all-tournament selection, but has not yet received any division one offers, something she appears deserving of.
In general younger players took a back seat in this event. Here are a few who should be monitored in the years ahead.
Arika Prentice, 5-9, 3F, DuPont Manuel High School, Louisville, KY
With a lean build, Prentice is light on her feet and more of a driver with above average athleticism. She needs to add consistency to her perimeter shot and that may determine whether she will receive BCS offers down the road. Coming off the bench, she was able to reach double figues (14 and 13) in Manuel’s two wins but was shut out versus Notre Dame.
Alexis Robinson, 5-10, PG, Ashland Blazer High School, Ashland, KY
Robinson played only one game (60-49 loss to Montgomery County) in Bowling Green but one could see why she is attracting BCS interest. She is light on her feet with good size and above average court vision. She looks to drive but prefers to dish rather than scoring herself. Her outside shot needs work and at times she needs to play harder on defense. College coaches will be monitoring her performance with Kentucky Premier during the upcoming club ball season.
Krys McCune, 6-4, C, DuPont Manuel High School, Louisville, KY
McCune was probably the find of the event although not a major factor in Manuel’s games in Bowling Green. She is still in the very early stages of development but she runs and jumps very well. Her hands are above average. She is just developing a drop step move. Also, playing for Kentucky Premier during the club season, look for her stock to rise as a future major division one prospect.
2017 [Kentucky allows eighth graders to participate.]
Haeli Howard, 5-3, G, Marion County High School, Lebanon, KY
Still fairly thin in build, she showed decent quickness, above average game understanding and scored five threes during the event while coming off the bench. Look for her as Marion’s lead guard next year and a likely division one prospect of some level down the road.