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Anderson County's second girls' Eighth Region championship was the result of good genes, a relocation, a boys' basketball coach and Mother Nature.
"We knew we were going to be good," Anne Flynn says of her 1977-78 Lady Bearcat team. The coach put together a rugged schedule that included dates in the Shelby County Invitational, where state powers Paris and Assumption were entered. She secured a date in the Louisville Invitational Tournament, where the team would endure some unexpected adversity that might have played a role in the team's success.
For three years, Anderson had been at the top of the Eighth Region. The Lady Bearcats won it in 1975, then watched helplessly as easy shot after easy shot fell off the rim in the next year's regional final. Anderson, ranked seventh in the state, fell by 2 points to Trimble County. Still formidable, the Lady Bearcats had been upset by Henry County in 1977.
But Flynn knew she had two of the best players in the region in Tammy McMichael and Nancy Flynn. Add to that a 5-foot-2 dynamo who transferred from Franklin County, Kathy Goins, and the stage was set for a return to Richmond. Vicki Baxter and Natalie Stratton rounded out the normal starting lineup.
"I was thinking like a coach would today," Anne Flynn says. "Instead of going out and just scheduling a lot of teams we could beat, I tried to get others on the schedule so we could be better at tournament time. We had close games and we won them."
There were no close games early, though, as Anderson scored wins over Owen County, Taylorsville and Henry Clay. When the Courier-Journal released its Litkenhous ratings, the Lady Bearcats were alone at the top.
"We were no. 1 in the state," says Judy Bruce Russell, a reserve on that team.
"Yes, we were ranked no. 1 in the state."
"I remember we were ranked no. 1 in the Litkenhous ratings the first week or two of the season," says Goins, now Kathy Martin. "We had scored 100 points or so and won the first games by large margins, so that was very exciting."
It was a first for the Anderson girls' program and only the second time ever for an Anderson team to be ranked at the top. The boys' basketball team of 1971 also spent a few weeks at no. 1.
"In just three years, our skills were so much better," Anne Flynn remembers. Part of it was the natural evolution of the game as girls played it more and more.
"The game had been a catch and shoot game, but it was changing fast."
At Anderson, the biggest change came when Goins, a softball buddy of McMichael's, moved to Anderson County with her family.
"Kathy came in and made so much difference," coach Flynn recalls. "Kathy was one of the best players of her time. She was a good passer and studied the game. She was a complete ball player. It was beautiful to watch her. She just worked so hard. She would come into the gym and just play ball all day.
"Nancy was a real competitor too. It was good to have those two on the team."
But players from that 1978 Lady Bearcat team will tell anyone they had two once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Appearing in the Sweet 16 is an opportunity afforded few young people in Kentucky.
Getting there might have been pushed along by something that might be even more unique.
"We went to Louisville for the (Louisville Invitational Tournament," Russell remembers. "We got snowed in. That was the year we had a really big snow. You talk about going snow crazy! We stayed up there for about a week, then finally played and got beat by Holy Rosary."
"We got up there and played a game (against Sacred Heart) and while we were playing, the snow came," says Vicki Baxter Walker.
Two feet, at least. It was the great storm of 1978 that shut down schools for nearly a month. Interstate 64 was closed, meaning that the Lady Bearcats were stranded without changes of clothes and staying with people that were connected with the team somehow.
Russell and some others stayed at the home of John Flynn, the coach's brother who lived in Louisville.
Others stayed with some relatives of team member Mary Cole. "They were two older ladies and they just cooked and cooked for us," remembers Walker. "We would play games and do things all day. we couldn't get out."
"I met some of the nicest people that took us in," adds Jana Buckles. "They cooked us everything. I think they liked having us.
"We were up there four or five days and none of us had a change of clothes. Finally, Tammy McMichael called her dad and he was able to get through and get us in a pickup."
But the snow took its toll on a small county school like Anderson. With players spread all over the county, getting practice time in was practically impossible.
"That was the winter I hated snow," Martin says. "We were out of school weeks at a time with games and practices canceled. I couldn't stand not getting in the gym. I had my brother take me in his 4-wheel drive so I could shoot."
What had the promise of a great season looked to be falling apart with a blowout loss to regional rival Oldham County in the final week of the campaign.
"I remember having a team meeting around that time," Martin continues. "We all talked about our goal of getting to the state tournament and everyone became more determined that we would do whatever it took to get us there."
The Lady Bearcats cruised through the 29th District tourney, but were paired with a Scott County team that had beaten them 63-61 earlier in the season. Anderson turned the tables with a 59-50 win, setting up a rematch with Oldham County.
That's where the boys' basketball coach came in.
"Oldham County had beaten us pretty bad (83-58)," coach Flynn remembers. "Gary Stevens just took an interest in the girls. He went and scouted Oldham County for us, then he came to practice and worked with us. He had a mind for basketball. He really helped us win that game."
With Flynn and Goins fueling the Lady Bearcats, Anderson got revenge with a 55-48 victory that former Oldham coach Dave Weedman still recalls as well. "I remember Nancy and Kathy," says Weedman, now the principal at Oldham County High. "I remember Kathy hitting jump shots off Nancy's high screens. We had a great game in the region."
The Lady Bearcats' win over Henry County in the championship game was almost anti-climatic.
"I can't say enough about what Gary Stevens did to help us," Flynn said.
Stevens retired but tragically died from injuries received in a tractor accident on his farm.
At the state, Anderson fell behind an ultra-quick Owensboro team by 14 points, but cut the lead to 1 inside the last minute before falling 49-47.
"I still talk to Nancy and we try to get together when she is in town," Martin says. "We reminisce about that season and still think about that game against Owensboro and what might have been if we had not dug ourselves into such a hole in the first half. If we had just gotten by that first game."
To date, that game with Owensboro in March 1978 was the last for an Anderson County girls' basketball team in the Sweet 16.
"Now, I appreciate what we did so much more," coach Flynn says. "I appreciate the fact that it is just so hard to get there. You have to have good players. You have to have talent. And you have to have some luck."
Martin married a coach, Wayne Martin, who was successful at Pikeville High School, Pikeville College and Morehead State University, where he took the Eagles to a pair of NCAA tournaments.
She stays close to the game, but no matter where she goes, she says she will never forget that magical March ride in 1978.
"It is hard to believe it has been 30 years ago. It was a wonderful time, spent with some great people and a special memory, one of those that you carry with you."