By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
It won’t be a visual on their red-white-and-blue uniforms, but everyone on the Obion County Central girls’ basketball team has been put on notice they’ll play the coming season with a bull’s-eye on their backs.
“No doubt, we’ll be the hunted,” Lady Rebel head coach Lyle LaRue said after OC finished as Class 2A state runnersup last season with a school-record 35 wins before falling to CPA in the championship game.
“We’ve tried to give the girls real-life examples in the sports world of what they’re going to be up against. We’ll be everybody’s Super Bowl. Even the teams that are struggling, we’ll get their best effort. Everybody will pull out all the stops to beat us. We can’t look at any game as just an average Tuesday night regular season game and just show up and expect to win.
“Nobody will give us anything.”
The tradition-rich Lady Rebel program — which recorded the 35th season of 20 or more victories last season in its 51 years of existence — matched its best-ever showing with the silver ball finish that mirrored a similar occurrence in the 1983-84 campaign.
The state tournament appearance was the 14th in OCCHS girls’ hoops history and Central spent time as the No. 1 ranked team in the state in the Associated Press 2A poll.
While naturally proud of those feats, LaRue said none of that would matter this year — beginning when OC tips off its 2012-13 season Tuesday night at South Fulton.
“They aren’t going to let us start games with points on the scoreboard for what we accomplished last year,” the coach continued. “What happened 6 or 8 months ago doesn’t matter.”
What will matter is that there’s plenty of experience returning from last season’s team as the Rebel girls look to continue the school’s stellar hoop tradition.
Three starters — let by all-stater and University of Memphis commitment Brandi Goodman — are back off the 2011-12 roster that includes seven seniors this year.
Goodman, a 6-2 post player, dominated the opposition in the middle a year ago while averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds per-game and elevating her game even further in the tournaments.
Also returning is 5-10 senior Ali McEwen, who made a number of big postseason shots during the Lady Rebels’ march to Murfreesboro last winter and will move to the perimeter this year to better take advantage of those abilities.
Shannon Wiggins (5-9, Sr.), the team’s “stopper” on defense, is also back and will be expected to again fill a critical if unsung role against the opposition’s best offensive player.
Back, too, after logging a considerable amount of minutes, is senior all-district performer Paige Hicks — currently listed on the jayvee roster until she completes makeup conditioning work after missing offseason workouts, according to LaRue. The 5-4 Hicks can and is expected to play either of the guard spots — a question mark for the team heading into the season.
Easily the biggest issue facing LaRue and his squad this year is replacing four-year starter and 2012 all-stater Macy Wright, the perfect outside complement to the inside dominance of Goodman and The Messenger’s 2011-12 Prep Player of the Year.
A disruptive defender who was the school’s all-time leader in steals, Wright also scored 1,700 points before signing with Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College upon the completion of her high school playing days.
LaRue insisted he’d again employ an up-tempo style this year — using defensive pressure of both the full- and halfcourt variety.
“We’ll be a little smarter about it this year,” the coach said. “A lot of the reason we do it is to speed the game up. A lot of our opponents want to play a game where the scoring is in the 40s. We’d rather have it in the 70s.”
Central’s continued success will start with Goodman, who could perhaps draw even more attention without the proven efforts of Wright to take defenders out of her area.
LaRue has shifted Goodman to the four-spot — further from the bucket — in an attempt to keep foes from double- and triple-teaming her. The coach said his star player has improved her shooting range and ball-handling and could even attempt a few from beyond the arc after not making one from there last season until she threw in a halfcourt shot in the state tournament.
“Brandi saw about every defense imaginable last season as we got deeper into the tournament, so I don’t anticipate anything that’ll throw her for a loop. She has worked on improving her range and her footwork in the offseason,” her coach said.
The remainder of the lineup will include sophomore Rachel Jones (5-6) at the point, Wiggins at the two-guard, McEwen at the small forward and either senior Abby Blackburn (5-10) or sophomore Diana Flippen (5-10) at center.
Jones is a good athlete with a good attitude who must mature quickly, according to LaRue, while Wiggins will add some offensive expectations to her aforementioned defensive duties. McEwen moves to the three-spot from inside and it is hoped her shooting skills will help draw attention away from Goodman.
Both Blackburn and Flippen are hard workers, the former described by her coach as “fundamentally sound,” while Flippen is a good rebounder and defender.
Darcey Jones (5-3, Jr.) and Peyton Daniel (5-5, Jr.) — along with Hicks, fellow juniors McKenna Stephenson (5-4) and Macey McKenzie (5-6) and senior Kelsey Gibson (5-9) — will all be a part of the backcourt rotation at times, too.
Gibson, sophomore McKenzie Davidson (5-8) and junior Ashlynn Hamm will back up McEwen at the small forward position, with Ashlyn Runions a reserve in the frontcourt.
After visiting South Fulton Tuesday night in Hall of Champions play, the OC girls will make two Hall trips on Nov. 17.
on the second of those dates.
The Lady Rebels will travel to Bolivar for a 10 a.m. contest, then return home to host Liberty that night at 7.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.9.12