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The SHCS girls’ basketball team enters the 2009-2010 season without much fanfare.
After the Lady Rockets were upset by Spencer County in the first round of last year's 30th District Tournament, not much is expected from them – outside of their locker room.
The girls were picked sixth by The Cat’s Pause Kentucky Yearbook, and The Courier-Journal’s coaches poll had them seventh.
But the Lady Rockets and their first-year coach, Phillip Conder, don’t agree.
"Talent-wise, we’re where we need to be, but based on last year, we’re going to be overlooked,” he said.
With just one junior on the roster, the Lady Rockets are heavy with senior leadership and underclass exuberance.
Seniors Dee Dee Davis, Marissa Raisor and Taylor Shaw will look to lead, but the team will likely go as far as freshman Aaliyah Wells can take them.
"I think she can go for 18 points and eight or nine rebounds a night,” Conder said. "We need her to be right around a double-double every game.”
After coming up to the varsity squad last year in January at the end of the middle-school season, Wells averaged 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in some limited work.
But this year she said she appears more comfortable. And she knows she’s part of the reason the Lady Rockets are putting lofty expectations on themselves - even if no one else is.
"I think we’ll be better on both sides of the ball,” she said. "And our goals are to get through the district and back to the region and state [tournaments].”
Davis said Wells – and her confidence – could be the missing piece for the Lady Rockets.
"Aaliyah can score, pass, defend – she’s just a great athlete,” That’s the major difference this year. She’s there to break the press and take it to the basket.”
With Conder’s system in place, positions aren’t cemented. Things could change.
He already has started moving players around, making the team much more versatile.
"One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises this year has been Marissa [Raisor],” he said. "We’ve already had her at all five positions, and she’s really doing great. Her ability to play [the point] and play underneath and post-up is really going to change us.
"With her an Aaliyah playing inside, that could give us five players on the court that can get the rebound, put it on the floor and go.”
Conder said he wants the team to run, but it has to be a controlled chaos.
"We want to get out and go, if it’s there, but our press is going to take time,” he said.
When the Lady Rockets lost Hannah Stucker, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in a powder-puff football game, Conder"s style was changed.
"We’re not going to be able to press as much as I wanted to without her in there,” he said. "But we’re still going to use our defense to create offense. We’ll just have to do it more in the half-court.”
Davis said Conder has left most of the decisions to the girls on the court.
"Coach has left it up to us to read the defense,” she said. "We can all drive and shoot. We don’t really have one person that has to drive or one that has too shoot. Everybody can do anything we need.”
Though the Lady Rockets feel like they can compete for the district and region titles, there are more questions about the rest of the teams on their schedule, which, as usual, will have them ready for the postseason.
They will face preseason No. 25-ranked and 8th Regional favorite South Oldham in the second game of the season (Dec. 4) and then play No. 24 Butler on Dec. 10. Add to that games against No. 1 Manual, No. 17 Dunbar and No. 18 Scott County, plus traditionally strong Henry Clay, Anderson County and Rockcastle County, and Shelby will be well tested.
"I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Davis said. "We may only play six or seven or eight people, but all of us bring a lot to the team.”
Said Conder: "Early on, we’re going to struggle. While we’re working to put it all together, we might take some lumps, but this is a talented team.
"Our goal is to, hopefully, have it all together by Anderson County [on Dec. 18] and going into our tournament [Dec. 21]. If we can have everybody on the same page, and everything running smoothly by then, we’ll be tough to play.”