SHEPHERDSVILLE - For three months, the Bullitt Central Lady Cougars were like the girl with the red curl in her hair.
When the Lady Cougars were good, they were very good. Unfortunately, when the team wasn’t so good, they could look really bad.
The reason for the peaks and valleys season was obvious - the Lady Cougars shot a lot of three-pointers. When the shots were falling, coach Bryan Bates’ team was competitive with just about anybody. When the shots weren’t falling, the maroon and gray had trouble finding other ways to get the ball in the basket.
That all led to a 15-14 season that included a runner-up finish in the 24th District Tournament.
“We knew going in that you live by the three and you die by the three,” Bates said last week. “We shot the most threes in school history. When we made those, we could beat anybody. Other nights we struggled when we didn’t hit those.”
Over the last half of the season in particular, the Lady Cougars hit a lot of threes at home but struggled more on the road. In fact, after Jan. 10, the Lady Cougars did not win a game away from home. Some of the setbacks were glaring include a 30 point loss at LaRue County and a 28-point setback at South Oldham.
The only home loss over the last six weeks of the season was a five-point loss to Bullitt East, the eventual Sixth Region runner-up.
With all of that, the Lady Cougars have big post-season plans. That was when disaster struck as the team lost senior leader Keoka Hilliard to a severely sprained ankle the day before the regional opener against Holy Cross. Hilliard was on the bench for that game and the maroon and gray suffered a 48-46 setback.
The injury was so serious that Hilliard was still wearing a protective boot three weeks later. It was the only injury she had in four years in the program.
“We surpassed a lot of peoples’ expectations,” Bates said. “In the pre-season we were seventh in the region. We were competitive with every team on our schedule. We played butler well and beat (Bullitt) East once. Nobody outside of our program expected that out of us.”
Bates didn’t want to base the season on one game at the end.
“I don’t look at it as frustrating,” the coach said. “We had kids step up in that game and we could have won. Playing without our leading scorer and passer it was a valiant effort for the last game.”
Bullitt Central had four seniors this season. Recently, guard Ashleigh Pollard signed to play basketball at St. Catharine next season. Hilliard, who holds the Lady Cougar school record for assists, has had some contact with colleges, but Bates is not sure she wants to take that route. Both Rachel Farber and Valerie Terry plan on being just students when they head to college.
For most of the season Bates dressed ten players with the varsity and he often used nine of those players in his main rotation. With six experienced players returning next season, the Lady Cougars will be strong again.
“We have a lot coming back,” Bates said. “We had a great group of sophomores and some juniors that will be good leaders. Then a lot of freshmen have potential.”
The Bullitt Central junior-varsity squad finished with a 13-3 record and won the post-season district tournament. Bates said that his freshman team was taller than the varsity and there are players there with potential after that team posted a 6-6 record this winter.
Hilliard led the Lady Cougars with a 13.4 points per game average, but the team returns its next two scorers, juniors Seaera Minyard (9.6) and Katilyn McKnight (9.0). Terry was the leading rebounder this past season, but Minyard and McKnight were just behind in that category.
Only a handful of the younger players are involved in other sports. That will allow most of the girls to start weight training after spring break. That will lead into some AAU play at different age groups before the summer.
Right after school lets out, Bates will host his annual summer youth campJune 6-9. The next weekend, the whole program will head to Transylvania University for team camp.
Bates said that he is close to completing next season’s schedule. The squad will play district rivals Moore and Southern once and will continue to play both North Bullitt and Bullitt East twice. The coach has already put his team into the North Bullitt tournament after Christmas and they will play in an out-of-town tourney before the holiday in either Bowling Green or Berea.
The Lady Cougars will also compete in the Bullitt County Challenge again. That will take place at Bullitt East next year with Bullitt Central playing Christian Academy.
Bates also said that he has scheduled just one game the week of the Girls’ Louisville Invitational Tournament. That game could be moved if the Lady Cougars become eligible for that event. Bullitt Central had to turn down an invitation to that tournament this past season.