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Sweet 16 notes: Lady Bearcats could be one of favorites for 2014

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Whiteside, Pike will be greatly missed

By John Herndon

There's always next year. It's just the nature of being a sports fan.

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Players had not emerged from Anderson County's locker room after the Final Four loss to Marion County Saturday when people were already talking about 2014.

It could be one of those rare instances when the expectations could be warranted as the Lady Bearcats will probably be one of the favorites to win the whole shebang next year.

Let that sink in for a minute: Anderson will be one of the teams given strong consideration as the team to beat in Kentucky in 2014.

Of course, Anderson has a huge hole to fill in the middle. Statistics cannot measure what Kali Whiteside did for the Lady Bearcats. At the Sweet 16, Henderson County coach Jeff Haile and Shelby Valley coach Rodney Rowe echoed what so many Eighth Region coaches had said all year about her rebounding, strength, athleticism and defensive presence. Whiteside is 6-foot-1, which is probably the equivalent of a 6-7 or 6-8 player in the boys' game.

Simply put, unless someone has a major growth spurt between now and October 15, Anderson will start the season with a huge question mark in the middle. The Lady Bearcats may have a slightly different look to compensate for that lack of size.

The Lady Bearcats will also miss the leadership Whiteside and reserve Libby Pike brought to the team. There can't be many teams, any sport, much closer than this Lady Bearcat team. Pike and Whiteside had a lot to do with that. If you were around the team very much at all, you saw the two seniors giving the pep talks before the games.

Their leadership was immeasurable. Someone will undoubtedly have to step into those leadership roles, but there are plenty of candidates.

That being said, it is certainly possible, but not a lock, that Anderson will open the 2013-14 season ranked No. 1 in Kentucky. Even with the hole in the middle, Anderson returns more top players than any other team that advanced in the Sweet 16.

However, there won't be an overwhelming favorite like Marion County was this year. Anderson will be in the mix along with Assumption and Ballard out of Louisville, and a pair of teams Anderson beat this year, Elizabethtown and LaRue County, both stuck in the Fifth Region with Marion.

Marion, by the way, loses four starters.

Any speculation about 2014 has to be taken with a grain of salt at this point. Kids sometimes get hurt playing other sports or summer ball, some blossom in the off-season and over the last 10 years, kids transferring from one school to another is becoming more common.

We won't know those variables for some time yet.

 

Regional outlook

While Anderson will be going for back-to-back regional basketball titles for the first time in school history, the Lady Bearcats won't be a lock.

Simon Kenton, which had Anderson down 10 with 90 seconds to go in the regional final, also returns four starters. The Lady Pioneers might be a legitimate Top 10 team as well. Simon plays very hard and plays a style that has traditionally given Anderson problems. It might be

Unless there are some major transfer developments, the gap between the top two teams and the rest of the region will be wide.  Rounding out the eight teams should be, in no particular order, Shelby County, Gallatin County, Oldham County and South Oldham.

 

Anderson fans turned out in big numbers

Anderson County undoubtedly had one of the largest cheering sections of the week. Of games I saw, only Marion had larger contingents. In the first round, Anderson and Henderson County, which was significantly closer to Bowling Green, had crowds that were roughly equal. All others were way behind.

It is impossible to know exactly how many tickets Anderson County fans bought. The school sold out of its first-round allotment very quickly and after that, all ticket sales went through Diddle Arena.

But the eyeball test said Anderson was very well represented.

Officially, 39,686 fans attended the tournament the third largest week in Girls’ Sweet 16 history.. Of the three largest crowds, two were when Anderson played (Friday afternoon and Saturday morning). The largest crowd of the week was for the final, when 6,259 fans were in Diddle Arena.

Marion played in each of the top three sessions.

 

T-shirts available from The Scratching Post

The Scratching Post, which sells spirit gear at Anderson County High School, is taking orders for T-shirts commemorating the Lady Bearcats' run to the Final Four. The shirts will be gray and will cost $10 each with sizes available from youth small and up. Sizes 2XL and above are $12 each.

A portion of the proceeds from the shirt sales will be given back to the Lady Bearcat basketball team. Orders need to be in by Friday, March 22 at 10 a.m.

For more information, or to place an order, contact Candy Rollins at candy.rollins@anderson.kyschools.us.

 

Making the Final Four

While this was the first time Anderson County had made the Final Four in the girls' state tournament, long-time fans know that the boys' team made the Final Four and then the state championship game in 1971. Those are the only two times Anderson County High School has advanced that far in a single class sport.

It is the fifth time a team from Anderson County has made it that far.  The Lawrenceburg High boys made it in 1928, losing to the legendary Carr Creek team. Kavanaugh's boys advanced to the semis in 1920 and to the championship game in 1930.

 

Boys could be very good

Even though it has been almost three weeks since the Anderson boys went down in the Eighth Region semi-finals, 2014 could be very good to them too.

Anderson will have a major hole with Jay Smith's graduation, but the Bearcats do return three starters in Austin Cummins, Christian Estes and Ross Cox. There is some other promising talent on the way up too.

Anderson will also have to find a way to replace Austin Linzy, who played bigger than his 6-2 frame.

In the Eighth Region, however, many teams will take a big graduation hit. Anderson County and Grant County have the most returning firepower. Oldham County should be strong again, while both Collins and Shelby County will be in the mix of things, making the 30th District very tough next year.

 

Church, rec leagues need to avoid conflicts

Throughout the district and regional tournaments this year, more than a few members of the Anderson student section had an unfortunate conflict with the local church league tournament.

Being someone who was in the ministry for over 20 years, it is difficult for me to be critical of an otherwise good thing, but such a conflict could have been, and should have been, avoided.

The Anderson boys' basketball team did not even have two of its managers for what turned out to be the final game of the season against Oldham County in the regional tournament. That night, Anderson had a good turnout but easily the smallest student section of the four teams involved.

The conflicts could have easily been avoided with a rescheduling or making sure those tournaments are not scheduled at the same time. Many communities make sure the recreational leagues are done by the high school post-season. All it takes is paying attention to the calendar – the high school dates are there at least a year in advance – or starting earlier.

From this corner, the conflicts were not intentional, but were the result of poor planning. Hopefully, it never happens again.

For the record, next year's Girls' Sweet 16 is set to be held in Bowling Green from March 12-15, while the boys' Sweet 16 will be in Rupp Arena March 19-22. Regional tournaments will go from March 3-11 with the districts being held the week of Feb. 24-March 1.

Anderson County has long had the reputation as having some of the largest crowds anywhere in high school basketball. Every effort should be made to keep it that way.

 

Comment at www.theandersonnews.com.