Clay County won seven straight regional titles between 1988 and 1994. Jackson County, Clay County and Rockcastle County kept the title in the 49th District the next three years before Harlan reeled off back-to-back championships to end the 20th century.
The arrival of Greg Parrett as coach and Sarah Elliott in the post signaled an era of domination by Jackson County. The Lady Generals won four straight titles from 2000 to 2003 and established themselves as perennial state contenders.
Jackson County's run was interrupted earlier this month by a rising Rockcastle County squad that avenged a loss in last year's title game. With four juniors in the starting lineup, Rockcastle looks like the next dynasty and will be the prohibitive favorite to make the trip to Bowling Green in 2005.
The following is my annual look at the previous season and a review of what to expect next year.
G Johnna Abney, Rockcastle County
G Tara Rowe, Rockcastle County
G Natasha Boggs, Cawood
F Heather Hammond, Rockcastle County
C Sarah Elliott, Jackson County
G Whitney Moore, Jackson County
G Jayme Gilbert, Clay County
G Brittany Bingham, Jackson County
F Sheena Lee, Cumberland
C Monica Mills, Barbourville
G Jamie Bonza, Corbin
G Erika McCreary, Evarts
G Sierra Wynn, Cawood
F Brooke Smith, Bell County
C Morgan Barley, Corbin
G Ashley Bolden, Bell County
G Paige Hibbs, Whitley County
F Jennifer Shelley, Williamsburg
F Kendra Latham, Harlan
C Amanda Miracle, Cawood
Johnna Abney, Rockcastle County
Tara Rowe, Rockcastle County
Heather Hammond, Rockcastle County
Brittany Bingham, Jackson County
Jamie Bonza, Corbin
Jayme Gilbert, Clay County
Sierra Wynn, Cawood
Brooke Smith, Bell County
Kendra Latham, Harlan
Mary Flanary, Middlesboro
Meleah Roberts, Clay County
Page Jackson, Clay County
Wendi Messer, Knox Central
Erika Letanosky, Cumberland
Emily Osborne, Middlesboro
Coach of the year
Chrysti Noble, Rockcastle County
Runners-up: Greg Parrett, Jackson County; and Richard Gambrel, Bell County
Predictions for 2004-05 (players are listed by grades for the 04-05 season)
1. Rockcastle County With four starters returning from a 30-4 squad, the Lady Rockets will be be ranked among the state's top five teams and will be a contender for the Sweet Sixteen title.
Seniors Johnna Abney (18.0 points per game) and Tara Rowe (14.6) and junior Katie Parsons (3.6) give Rockcastle the top backcourt in the region for the third straight season. Senior Heather Hammond (13.7) is back for her third season as a starting forward.
The starting center spot is up for grabs with the graduation of Lauren Clontz, but there isn't a shortage of candidates with several reserves getting plenty of experience last season. Senior Rachel Stocker (1.8), at 5-11, is the probable starter.
Junior Ashley Lunsford (2.3) started in the state tournament due to a knee injury suffered by Abney in the regional finals and will give Rockcastle quality depth at guard. Senior Sara Parsons (2.6) and junior Ashley Kimberl (1.3) will also see plenty of action.
2. Corbin A district tournament loss to Whitley County kept the much-improved Lady Hounds out of the regional and took some of the luster off an impressive regular season. But with all five starters coming back, Corbin should be a regional contender.
Morgan Barley (10.6) returns for her senior season at center while junior Jamie Bonza (8.0) is back to run the squad at point guard. Juniors Heather Clouse (9.8) and Katie Akins (8.9) and freshman Mikkah Rogers (5.6) also return to the starting lineup. Junior Christina Sutton (5.5) and sophomore Brittany Jackson (3.2) will compete for a starting job at forward.
3. Clay County With one of the most talented groups of underclassmen in the state, the Lady Tigers could be on the verge of another powerhouse.
The Lady Tigers have missed the regional tournament the past two years and aren't guaranteed a trip next year in the brutal 49th District but should be more competitive with Rockcastle and Jackson as several of their talented younger players gain more experience.
Junior Jayme Gilbert (18.9) carried the young Lady Tigers' squad last year but should have more help in 2005. Senior Kari Ealy (5.5) and junior Jenna Wilson (2.5) return to the backcourt. Kelly Jones (2.7), a 5-11 senior, will be back at center. Sophomores Page Jackson (4.5) and Meleah Roberts (5.1) will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup, as will freshman Gemma Gray (3.0).
4. Jackson County The post-Sarah Elliott era in McKee will find the Lady Generals adjusting to life without the imposing 6-foot-6 center in the middle.
The Lady Generals will still be an extremely competitive team as long as Parrett is around. Brittany Bingham (10.4) and Danielle Roaden (7.5), both 5-foot-8, return for their senior seasons, but may have to switch positions with the Lady Generals losing their top post players. Senior Ashley Whitehead (1.3) and eighth-grader Kourtney Tyra (4.0) are probable starters in the backcourt.
5. Whitley County With three key players back for their senior seasons Paige Hibbs (8.8), Samantha Daugherty (7.8) and Whitney Sulfridge (7.7) the Lady Colonels should improve on last year's 15-13 mark and challenge for another 50th District title.
Kayla Haynes (9.7), at 5-10, and Stacey Perkins (5.7), at 5-9, return for their junior seasons in the post. Stephanie McCullah (5.5), a 5-8 sophomore, will also compete for a starting spot.
6. Bell County Junior forward Brooke Smith (15.9) and senior guard Tracy Partin (10.9) give the Lady Cats a solid inside-outside combination, but some younger players will have to become factors if Bell is to improve on last year's record.
With the loss of Kacy Stewart and point guard Ashley Bolden to graduation, Bell has some question marks entering the season but should hold off Middlesboro as the top team in the 51st District.
Teagan Brock (2.2), a 5-10 junior, returns at forward. Katelyn King (1.0) and Maggie Miracle (1.1), both 5-8 juniors, were top reserves last season.
7. Cawood Two straight years of heavy graduation losses have taken their toll on the Trojanettes, who must find a capable replacement for point guard Natasha Boggs if they are to extend their string of 52nd District titles to five.
Senior Whitney Rhymer (5.5) and junior Sierra Wynn (11.0) return on the wings with junior Cynthia Green (2.8) moving into the starting lineup at forward. Junior Tiffany Brock (1.2) is the probable starter at center with freshman Emily Boggs (2.6) and junior Sarah Simpson contending for a starting spot in the backcourt.
8. Cumberland The loss of Sheena Lee and Megan Metcalfe to graduation could be made up by the return of 6-1 Ashley Massey from a knee injury that sidelined the talented center for her entire junior season.
Erika Letanosky (7.8), a sophomore forward, could benefit the most by Massey's return, allowing her to match up against smaller players next season. Junior Brianne Cornett (4.5) will have to provide more offense from the point if the Lady Skins are to move up the ladder in the region. Sarah Adams (5.4), a 5-5 junior, is also back at guard. Sophomore Brianna Cornett (1.1) is the early favorite to grab the other starting spot.
9. Harlan Despite winning only eight games last year, the Lady Dragons exceeded the expectations of most and were competitive in all but a handful of games.
Even though the loss of guards Megan White and Stephanie Baker to graduation will hurt, Harlan should continue its improvement with the return of 5-10 junior Kendra Latham (14.6) at center. Guard Crystal Fields (4.5) and forward Rhonda Curtis (4.9) return for their senior seasons. Sophomore Caroline Huff (1.2), a top reserve last season, will move into the starting lineup. Chassidy Lawson (1.4), an eighth-grade forward who saw quite a bit of action in a reserve role, could earn a starting job. Junior Brittany Jones will also compete for a starting job at forward.
10. Evarts Losing their top three scorers to graduation could mean a rebuilding year for the Lady Cats, who will count on senior forwards Sarah Pryor (6.1) and Michelle Helton (5.5) to make up for the loss of Sabrina Smith inside.
Senior Brittany Cornett (6.9) could shift over from the wing to replace Erika McCreary at point guard. There are several candidates at the other positions, including sophomore Samantha Cochran, junior Tiffany Jones (1.6) and senior Ashley Wilkinson.
Best of the rest Lynn Camp, Middlesboro, Pineville, Knox Central, Barbourville, Williamsburg, Oneida Baptist and Red Bird.