When a basketball team has players competing for open varsity spots, the work ethic and determination to succeed increases. That is something that was showcased in the Lady Laker basketball team’s practices.
Calloway County only has two returning players. One is MSU-commit senior Charlee Settle. Settle is well-known throughout the region and led the team offensively with 673 points last season.
Junior Elle Carson is the second returning starter for the Lady Lakers. She was the second-leading scorer last season, contributing 302 total points.
Head coach for the Lady Lakers Valerie Waller said, “What we really have to have is three other kids step up, and that’s what we didn’t have last year on a consistent basis. We need three to four other kids to be able to contribute on a nightly basis, and that’s what our kids are trying to figure out right now: who’s going to do that?”
Players that will be missing from the court this season are graduates Keeli Puckett and Brianna Emery. Puckett started for four years for the Lady Lakers as a point guard, and Emery was the teams’ leading defender.
Senior Ellie Jackson will also be missing from the Lady Lakers’ roster. She tore her ACL during a volleyball match in October and will be unable to play basketball this season.
“Our identity is going to change a lot,” Waller said. “We have two starting positions wide open, and I think those starters will probably change off and on until we decide what our strength is as far as our starting five.”
Calloway has an abundance of young players that are ready to battle for those open spots. The Lady Lakers’ roster includes one senior, two juniors, four sophomores, two freshmen, two eighth-graders and even one seventh-grader.
“We have a lot of young kids, so we’re excited about that and the opportunity for those kids to play,” Waller said.
And boy will they have the opportunity to play. Not only is Calloway in one of the toughest districts around, but the Lady Lakers also have a whopper of a schedule for this season.
Calloway’s district has won the regional championship 17 times in the past 20 years.
“Our district has always been the most competitive,” Waller said. “That’s part of it. It’s just part of the game and part of the way things lie.”
Marshall County is currently the most popular favorite to win the region this year, and Murray High has not lost a regional game since 2015.
“Marshall County brings pretty well everybody back,” Waller said. “They’re definitely the strong favorite in the region right now, and Murray has always shown up to play. They’ve proven that year in and year out even though they’re graduated a lot of seniors over the last two seasons, and I don’t expect that to be any different this year.”
Even opponents outside of the district are going to be tough this season.
“Our schedule this season is much tougher than it has been in the past. We have the hardest schedule I think we’ve had since Charlee’s been here,” Waller said.
Last year, the AA was a little bit different for Calloway County. They ended up playing eight games in ten days.
“That was a struggle, so we’ve changed some things as far as that goes, but as far as competition-wise, we have the strongest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here in my ten-year,” Waller said.
One game that Waller is particularly excited about is a match-up against Vincennes Lincoln High, a team in Indiana.
“They’re a good basketball team that made it through the state tournament last year in Indiana,” Waller said. “That will be a big game for us starting out.”
Another game the Lady Lakers are excited about is the crosstown game.
“We play Murray before Christmas break which is completely different,” Waller said. “We haven’t ever done that, so I think that is key for both schools as far as that goes. I think district games are always the big games that kids look forward to.”
The long term goal for the Lady Lakers this season is to get out of the district and qualify for the regional tournament.
“Since our district is so competitive, getting out of the district is the most important thing for us,” Waller said. “Once you get out of the district, anything is possible in the region because our district is so strong.”
Short term, Waller said her team is just trying to get better. They’ve put in countless hours this postseason and attended several different tournaments this summer.
“I think all kids in this region put in that time and work ethic,” Waller said. “Individually for each player, they have their own goals in the offseason for what they want to improve on, and they’ve all worked hard on that. Our kids are battling right now for a starting position. I think that’s big.”