The Mason County girls’ basketball team will have to replace all five starters from a season ago.
The Lady Royals graduated Maddie Boone, Jordan Frodge, Brianna Littleton, Briana McNutt and Whitney O’Mara, who combined to score 1,446 of the team’s 2,006 points last season, as well as fellow seniors Madison Butler, Makayla Highfield and Erika Simms.
Coach Brad Cox won’t have to look far to fill two of those starting positions, as he’ll return A.J. Reed and Kara Moran this winter, the first two players off the bench for Mason County last season.
“I think that they could have definitely started for just about anyone, but they just brought their energy off the bench, their intensity and they changed the dynamic of the game. It’s just a luxury to have that,” said Cox. “We have them returning this year, but it’s going to vital to find two or three or more people to replace that coming off the bench.”
Outside of the starting five, the two were the only players on the team to appear in all 32 of the Lady Royals’ games last season, which helps a coach who will likely be putting many players with little varsity experience on the floor.
“I know what they can do on the court. We need their leadership, to set a good example, be positive – leadership in a positive way, because we’re probably going to have to play some kids regardless of age that don’t have a lot of varsity experience,” said Cox. “Their experience in the games and going through it and how to practice the right way should carry down through the rest of the kids.”
Reed and Moran have already begun the transition into the leadership role through the first few weeks of practice, with a focus on positivity with the younger girls.
“We were under all those eight seniors,” said Moran. “Now it’s my senior year and I’ve got to lead my team.
“We have a bunch of younger girls that aren’t as experienced, didn’t play varsity level, so more positivity,” added Moran.
The 5-foot-10 forward averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds off the bench last season. Her sophomore season, she averaged 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds The third-year Mason County coach is expecting Moran to play different roles on the floor this year, as well as taking on the role of a leader.
“Kara, we experimented some with her this summer with her playing out on the wing a little more with a bigger lineup. She can certainly play inside too. She’s very versatile,” said Cox. “She can play four spots for us this year and she probably will at some point.”
Reed averaged 6.2 points per game last season, shooting over 42 percent from the field and knocking in 21 three-pointers.
“A.J. is a phenomenal on the ball defender. She is very aggressive offensively. She’s outstanding in pick-and-roll situations. She can break people down off the dribble and create or get to the basket,” said Cox.
The 5-foot-5 guard has also experienced the shift in leadership with the loss of Mason County’s eight seniors from a season ago.
“I’m going to be the leader of the team now. I have to stay positive,” said Reed. “I really was not the person to do that last year.”
Along with the positivity the two have tried to bring to practice early on, there has been an increased level of competitiveness with other starting positions up for grabs.
“I think we have really good competition for people that want to start and gain their way up,” said Reed. “We don’t really have a set five yet, so I think it’s a lot more competitive than it was last year.”
Joining them and hoping to make more of an impact are fellow seniors Haley May and Jaclyn Poe, who each played in 15 games last season. Others that appeared in games last year and are competing for playing time include Victoria Brooks, Samantha Schumacher, Jacailin Routt, Rachel Payne, Emma Taylor and Haley White.
Last year’s team advanced to the 10th Region final, before falling to George Rogers Clark in overtime, 56-53, but the two seniors aren’t feeling pressure to repeat and are entering their final season with confidence.
“I don’t know if it’s so much pressure because we’re not going to be bad. I think we’re going to be decent because we’ve got talent and we work our butts off every day we come in,” said Moran.
“My confidence is pretty high,” added Moran. “I have confidence in my team and myself.”
Mason County opens the season at Rowan County on Nov. 28.