Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of previews of area high school girls basketball teams.
HARRODSBURG — The Mercer County girls will make some noise this season.
Opponents will hear the Titans coming, unlike last year, when they quietly put together a second consecutive 20-win season and once again became one of the 12th Region’s best teams. Coach Chris Souder knows his team has lost that element of surprise, especially given the fact that every single player returns from last season.
“We were better than what people thought we were going to be, but this year the cat’s out of the bag,” Souder said. “That’s the thing we’ve been harping on in practices, that you’re going to have to come every day and bring your ‘A’ game, because if you don’t, the teams in this region are good enough that you’re going to lose.”
Mercer figures to be one of those teams, even though it hasn’t been much of a factor in the late rounds of recent regional tournaments, and it went quietly last season with a first-round loss to Garrard County.
The Titans are led by four seniors who have been with Souder since their middle school years.
“For several years we’ve been thinking this bunch can be a special group, and they’ve stuck together. ... This bunch has been a really fun bunch, and I guess because they’ve been with me since the eeventh or eight grade, expectations are high,” he said.
He said he’s “a little guarded” in his optimism because he knows Mercer won’t sneak up on anybody this winter.
“But this group’s always found a way to win,” Souder said.
A group of four seniors is at the heart of the team, led by Savannah Taylor, a lean, agile inside player who was the area’s third-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder last year.
“She’s a typical gym rat. If we’re off a day, she’s coming to my house and getting the keys (to the gym) to shoot,” Souder said.
“She wants to play college basketball, and she wants to play at the highest level she can play at, so she understands, ‘I’ve got to work every day.’ Savannah will be successful just bec she’s willing to put in the time.”
The team’s strongest inside presence lies with Tabby Shewmaker, whose best sport is softball but whose strength makes her an asset in basketball — if Souder can convince her to be more aggressive.
Point guard Cawood Dedman was far more at ease operating the Mercer offense last year as is a good anticipatory defender, and Souder said she worked this summer on her on-ball defense. The fourth senior, Taylor Readnower, is a versatile player who will likely be the sixth man.
Junior Carli Souder, one of the team’s best outside shooters and defenders, returns to the lineup, and Catheryne Claunch, a part-time starter last year as an eighth-grader, will probably start full time.
The rotation will also include junior center Deanna Stinnett and junior guard Taylor Schroeder, as well as versatile sophomore Raegan Freeman and perhaps eighth-grader Madeline Bartley.
“We’ve got nine or 10 kids, but we need some experience,” Souder said. “The region is so balanced and tough, that when it comes down to it I’m not going to be able to play six kids.”