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Before a recent summer game, an opposing coach told Shelby County girls’ basketball coach Mike Sowers that it looked like he had an “army” in tow.
Sowers’ response: “Well, you should have seen us a few years ago. We were pulling people out of the stands.”
Much has changed since Sowers took over the Rockets’ program in the summer of 2010. Foremost among those has been its overall depth.
Sowers’ first season he had a roster made up of zero seniors, one junior, two sophomores, four freshmen and 11 middle-schoolers. His fourth season should be vastly different.
“I wouldn’t consider us young any longer,” Sowers said earlier this week during Shelby County’s team shootout.
That’s because, despite the fact that the Rockets’ roster will only include one senior (forward Nikki Simmons), it will be replete with experience in 2013-14. Almost every key player will return (three valuable leaders, Kirstin Dugle, Lynsey Nichols and Jamie Bradley have graduated) from a team that went 16-14 and lost to crosstown-rival Collins, 52-48, in double overtime in the 30th District Tournament semifinals.
“All you want to do in the summer is get better and evaluate the talent you’ve got coming back,” Sowers said.
He has quite a bit coming back. Leading the way will be rising junior forward Mackenzie Raizor, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in earning all-8th Region honors last season.
Also returning will be sophomore-to-be forward Justus Martin (9.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg), rising junior guard Katie Hudgens (6.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg), rising junior forward (and Mackenzie’s twin) Savannah Raizor (6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Simmons (5.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and junior-to-be guard Jordan Holt (2.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg).
“Leadership has been pretty good,” Sowers said. “Nikki’s leadership has been really good.”
Three other rising juniors – Jordan Rood, Kara Wiley and Kelli Armstrong – will also be back, as will sophomores-to-be Madison Todd and Hailey Poe
However, as has been the case over the last couple of seasons, the Rockets are still dealing with injuries. Wiley and Poe are coming back from knee injuries, and Rood is rebounding from a broken finger.
Sowers said he also is excited about some young players who have played with the varsity this summer and could have an impact on next season. Among them are eighth-graders Zephy Gray, Alyssa Roberts and Amie Conley.
“This summer has been more about implementing another youth movement, ingraining them with the kids we already have,” Sowers said. “We’ve got a couple of kids who can really help Katie with the ball-handling.
“We’re excited about these kids… On most nights, we’ll go ten or twelve deep.”
That should be key as Shelby County sets its sights on returning to the 8th Region Tournament for the first time since 2009-2010, the season before “the split.”
Of course Sowers knows that that will be easier said than done, considering the fact that last season’s state runner-up, Anderson County, likely will be the prohibitive favorite to win the 30th District, the 8th Region and the state championship.
“A trip to the region, that’d be a big accomplishment for us,” he said. “That’s a big goal fur us.”
And one that could be possible because of the Rockets’ overabundance of depth.
Josh Cook’s Summer Top 5 8th Region Girls’ basketball teams
1. Anderson County – Makenzie Cann (15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4 rpg) and Eriel McKee (17.5 ppg, 7 rpg), both Division I caliber players, return to a team that went 34-2 and finished as the state runner-up last season.
2. Simon Kenton – The Pioneers return their top two scorers, all-region guard Abby Owings (12.9 ppg) and forward Christina Cook (11 ppg), from a team that went 28-6 last season and lost to Anderson County, 70-68, in overtime in the 8th Region final.
3. Oldham County – The Colonels, who went 16-13 and advanced to the 8th Region Tournament semifinals last season, return one of the state’s top scorers, and all-region guard, Ashley McMurtrey (21.8 ppg).
4. Gallatin County – The Wildcats, who went 27-6 and lost to Oldham County in the first round of the 8th Region Tournament, will be led by their dynamic Dossett duo – rising senior guard Brooke Dossett (17.8 ppg) and junior-to-be swingman Hannah Dossett (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
5. Shelby County – The Rockets, who finished 16-14 and lost to Collins, 52-48, in double overtime in the 30th District Tournament semifinals, return four starters, including all-region forward Mackenzie Raizor (12.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg).