The Harlan County Lady Bears have produced one traditional center after another in the last five years.Without an established back to the basket player next season, Anthony Nolan said his team will look to open up the offense.
“We have ran at a lot faster pace most of the summer, and played with a lot of four-guard lineups. I think most of our kids enjoyed that,” said the Harlan County coach. “It requires you to be in excellent condition, but the kids know what they have to do in the weight room in the fall. It should be exciting for the fans.”
Harlan County’s new fast-paced style is made possible by a group of experienced guards, including seniors Kaitlyn Stittums and Lauren Lee, junior Bella Noe and sophomore Brooklyn Massingill.
“We have two senior guards and then a junior and a sophomore. There is a ton of experience there, and we expect those kids to go out and lead us. All four of them could be a top 10 player in the region,” Nolan said.
With the smaller lineup, Harlan County guards will be forced to replace the rebounding and interior presence of Sarah Evans, Keisha Mimes and Madison Cornett, who were all lost to graduation. To replace that production, Nolan said the Lady Bears will have hit the weight room in the offseason.
“To play with a smaller lineup like that, these guards have to learn to be physical and rebound,” he said.
Harlan County wrapped up its summer campaign on Monday. The Lady Bears posted a solid 23-7 record despite missing several players at different times. Nolan said the absences of several regular starters helped to create playing time for the younger Lady Bears.
“The summer is about trying to find that surprise player that can step in and give key minutes in big situations. We have found out what our weaknesses are, and now it’s important that these kids develop their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses during the offseason,” he said. “We have had a lot of different people show glimpses of what they can do, but we are still looking for consistency. A lot of that has to do with confidence. Coaches can’t really give you that. You have to go out and earn it with repetition and hard work.”
Harlan County was forced to play the entire summer without Shannon Shackleford. The rising senior is expected to start next season after missing most of her junior year with a knee injury.
“Including Shannon being out, we have not had a complete roster this summer. We have had a different lineup nearly every game, so it is good to see girls that are going to be able to step up and play next year,” Nolan said. “”With Shannon not being able to play, it gives Becky Freeman, Kaitlin Evans, Leah Evans and Lindsay Brandon a lot of minutes.”
One of the most pleasant surprises for Harlan County was the emergence of a strong upcoming eighth-grade class, including Rebecca Middleton, Noah Canady, Kaylea Gross and Breann Turner. The group went 24-4 in junior varsity action, despite facing freshmen and sophomores for most of the summer.
“We have a very strong eighth-grade class, so the future is very bright. It is probably the strongest class that we have. They have probably played the entire junior varsity schedule and only lost a couple of games playing against freshmen and sophomores. That shows how impressive that group was. A couple of those kids proved they could get the job done at the high school level,” Nolan said. “They will be pushing the varsity and that helps because you have depth.”