Rowan County aims to be among the 16th Region’s top teams.

After a 21-11 finish last season, the Lady Vikings look to build on recent success.

This group of Lady Vikings have been building steam for several seasons. Starting in 2016, they battled back from a 10-20 finish under the first year direction of beloved Coach Ed Jones. Jones started with only one senior and four upperclassmen.

That year the Vikings played several freshman including Promise Cross, Brooke Blevins, Jada Rogers and Shelby Ricer. This group of Lady Vikings seniors will bring a great deal of leadership to their 2019-2020 campaign.

The team returned for the 2017-2018 season with Jones at the helm. They finished with a 19-11 record. They made it to the semifinals of the EKC tournament, were district runners up, and made it back to the 16th Region tournament.

Jones, who passed away in September, will be missed. A supporter of all Rowan County athletics, Jones made a huge impact on the Lady Vikings’ basketball program.

Last season, the Lady Vikings were under new direction of Coach Matt Stokes. Stokes, who has coached the current group of seniors since seventh grade year, helped them reach peak performance. They won the EKC tournament in overtime against West Carter and started the season with seven straight wins.

They finished the season as runners up of the 61st District and lost to West Carter in the first round of the regional tournament.

Rowan returns majority of last year’s starters: Blevins, Ricer, Rogers, Haven Ford, and Hailey Rose.

“With the group of seniors we have and the experience they have, we have 10, 11 or 12 girls that can get varsity minutes. It is going to be hard to get that many in a varsity game, but the way they have been playing at practice they are making it hard on us, who is going to get to play and how much they are going to get to play. That is a good problem to have,” said Stokes about this year’s depth.

Not returning is graduated senior Angela Marcum and junior Promise Cross. Marcum’s near double-double will be tough to replace. She averaged 10.9 points per game and 9.6 rebounds. She had the best field percentage on a team that desperately struggled with shot selection.

The Lady Vikings will also be missing Cross. She averaged 13 points per game and shot 45.6 percent from the field. She was known for jump starting the Lady Vikings’ offense and being a force on defense.

Cross’ athleticism has shone in whatever sport she plays, but has recently announced her decision to focus on track. Cross plans to continue her athletic career competing at an NCAA Division I level.

“She played with us this weekend and I got a sense she is just really worried about getting hurt. If she does something during basketball season, then what does that do for her for track season? She has a lot of schools looking at her for track and I support her 100 percent. We would love to have her here, but we need to focus on her future,” said Stokes. “We wish her the best and we hope we see her out cheering us on.”

Blevins is expected to step up as a leader after a tremendous second half of the season. She split roles with Ford as the team’s point guard, and as a senior, is going to take on more of a role.

“Giving Brooke the ball, which Brooke did some of last year, will really help Haven loosen up and get open more often,” said Stokes.

Blevins broke free in the first ever KHSAA 2A tournament. She had two 20-point games and assisted the Lady Vikings with a 2A State semifinal appearance.

Blevins’ 61st District finals appearance demonstrated the potential she possesses for the upcoming season. She scored 23 points against Menifee County. She shot eight for 14 from the field, four for five from the free throw line and three for five from outside the arch. She finished the season averaging 10.2 points per game.

“She averaged 10 points per game last year and we expect her to average 12,13 points this year. We need her to be our leader on the floor. She has been through this. I have been coaching her since seventh grade. She knows everything we like to do. We expect her to keep improving,” said Stokes.

Ford returns as the team’s leading scorer. She averaged 16.6 points per game as an eighth grader. She nears her 1,000th career point having scored 152 points as a seventh grader and 532 points last season. She enters her first year of high school with just shy of 700 career points.

Ford showed poise as a mere eighth grader, however, is confident that this season will give her even more of an edge from the field.

“We are trying to get her off the ball more and let Brooke take over the point guard role. We are looking for her to be our primary scorer. She was our leading scorer last year and she is going to be our leading scorer this year, taking advantage from the three-point line, looking to attack. This is probably the best shape she has ever been in coming off the soccer season,” said Stokes.

She is focused on improving her chances around the rim. She averaged 37.6 from the field despite having one of the region’s top percentages (85.5 percent) from the free throw line. She also shot the Lady Vikings’ best three-point percentage with 35.3 percent and sunk a total of 76 baskets from outside the arch.

Rogers and Ricer return with quality time from three seasons. They will be leaned on to assist the Lady Vikings in filling Marcum’s spot under the basket. Covering Marcum’s position will have to be a team effort.

“It is going to be tough to fill that hole. We had a scrimmage this past weekend and I was really worried about our rebounding because we are so small. But we had a good day on the boards with Shelby Ricer and Jada Rogers. We told them both that is where you have to shine. You have to rebound the basketball this year,” said Stokes.

Ricer returns 3.9 points per game and Rogers returns 3.4 points per game. Ricer returns the best field goal percentage having shot 49.5 percent from the field.

Rose is another force to be reckoned with from outside the arch. She averaged 32.3 from three point range. She scored 129 of her 167 points last season from three point buckets.

She will also be expected to pick up some of the rebounding.

“Hailey Rose has actually grown a lot over the offseason. She has got some size on her now. She didn’t really like to beat and bang last year but were expecting to see a little more of that this season,” said Stokes.

The Lady Vikings’ season kicks off Dec. 4, with the EKC tournament followed by the Peggy Moore Classic in Breathitt County.

The Lady Vikings have five tournaments scheduled for the regular season, including the second Annual 2A sectional tournament in January. They plan to be tournament tested come postseason.

Krystal Williams can be reached at kwilliams@themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.

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