The team wearing the bull’s-eye all season lived up to the challenge.
A year after going unbeaten in the 16th Region, Ashland’s Kittens won 17 of 18 region matchups including hard-fought victories over rival Boyd County in the 64th District and region finals.
Coaches responded by voting Bill Bradley the All-Area Coach of the Year for a third consecutive time, while dynamic sophomore point guard Alexis Robinson won her first Player of the Year award.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” said Bradley, adding that Ashland’s program has benefited from a run of very good players as well as cohesiveness with the coaching staff.
For the second year in a row, the Kittens will be sending two players to the college basketball ranks — Kaylyn Gambill (Rio Grande) and Allie Slone (Kentucky Christian). Last season, it was Mykal Farris (Georgetown) and Julia Heaberlin (Rio Grande). And the year prior to that, Katelyn Connor signed with (Division I) Coastal Carolina.
“We’ve had some serious talent. Another thing is, the core staff has been together seven years,” said Bradley, whose assistants include Phil Wittich, Dale White, Kimberly Owen and Stephanie DeWitt. “I think that’s a major correlation to success, just the stability.”
The Kittens finished 25-7 — their third straight season with at least 25 wins.
“After winning (the region) last year, we talked to the girls about the target being on your back and getting everybody’s best shot,” Bradley said.
That meant even beyond the 16th Region.
“Some other local teams we played this season, like Ironton, Fairland and South Point, the crowds were bigger and there was a little more buzz,” Bradley said.
Bradley also noticed an increase in attention during Ashland’s appearance in Lexington Catholic’s Republic Bank Holiday Classic, one of the state’s premier regular-season girls tournaments. While there, the Kittens knocked off Louisville Mercy 71-52.
“Coaches from Louisville and Lexington would come up and talk to us, so our reputation had gotten pretty decent,” Bradley said. “The girls could tell a difference also, as far as respect around the state.”
Ashland had to earn its way back to Bowling Green with regional tournament wins at Morehead State University over hometown Rowan County, Lewis County (coming off a victory over East Carter) and, finally, a championship showdown with Boyd County for the third year in a row.
“That was a monster game,” Bradley said. “It was pressure-packed, and came down to the end, like we thought it would.”
With the score tied, the Kittens worked the clock down inside the final minute before Slone was fouled going to the basket with 21 seconds left. She made both free throws and Ashland held on for a 54-52 victory.
“We knocked over a minute off the clock, with all five handling it,” Bradley said. “Nobody panicked. Alexis trusted her teammates. She’s so basketball savvy.”
Robinson repeated as 16th Region Tournament MVP with 37 points, 31 rebounds, 13 assists and five 3-pointers in the three games. For the season, she averaged 12.5 points and 7.2 rebounds.
Robinson is the first Kittens player to be selected All-Area Player of the Year since Laisha Ward in 2008. Bradley continues to be impressed with the 5-foot-8 playmaker’s inner drive.
“Alexis wants to get better every day, and that’s no exaggeration,” he said. “Over the summer, she worked tremendously hard on her 3-point shooting to make that another key part of her game. People saw the results.”
Robinson connected 43 times from behind the arc this season, including a deep three on the Kittens’ opening possession of the regional championship game.
The wiry Robinson’s next project is improving her strength and conditioning.
“At state, she got hit a few times and didn’t finish,” Bradley said of the Kittens’ 60-49 first-round loss to Montgomery County. “Alexis wants to go to a big-time college. She knows she has to be able to take a hit.”
Robinson is taking her AAU game to another level by joining the prestigious Kentucky Premier squad after previously playing for West Virginia Thunder.
“It’s a pretty big honor,” Robinson said. “It’s going to help a lot. Playing against some of the best players in the country will get me prepared for college.”
Gambill and post player Haley Sue Foutch also represented Ashland on the All-Area team.
Gambill, a three-time selection, averaged 10.5 points and made 72 three-pointers to boost her career total to 336.
“Kaylyn has been with me five years and made so many big shots during her career,” Bradley said. “Her defense improved so much, along with her ability to take the ball to the basket, all at 107 pounds. She’s pretty resilient for being that small.”
Gambill, among the top scorers in school history, was named the 16th Region’s top senior by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches. She’s part of Ashland’s seven-member senior class that figured prominently in the team’s success.
“I’m going to miss them a lot,” Robinson said. “They are all like my sisters.”
Next season, the Kittens will build around their two standout juniors. Foutch averaged 10.4 points as a sophomore while shooting 55 percent from the field. She also pulled down six rebounds per game.
Boyd County tied Ashland with three All-Area picks.
Taylor Wheeler, who averaged 16 points and 4.8 rebounds, has been chosen to play for the Kentucky Junior All-Star team against Indiana.
Sophomore shooting guard Logan Fraley hit 81 three-pointers as the Lady Lions finished 26-9. Fraley, who earned All-Area honors for the third time, averaged 13.1 points and shot 75 percent at the foul line.
Senior Emily Stewart energized Boyd County from the point guard position with her ballhandling, scoring, defense and rebounding.
Murray State University signee Taylor Porter, of Lawrence County, scored at a 25.3 clip to lead the area. She hit 97 treys, made 81 percent of her free throws and also averaged 5.7 rebounds for the Lady Bulldogs (23-8). Porter earned a spot on the Kentucky Senior All-Star squad.
East Carter, a 24-game winner, and Lewis County each had two players chosen on the All-Area team.
Lady Raiders point guard Kristen Mayo, an eighth-grader, was named Eastern Kentucky Conference Player of the Year. She averaged 11 points, four assists and three steals. Teammate Bryana Greenhill, the EKC Defensive Player of the Year, chipped in 10 points, four steals and three assists per game for the 62nd District winners.
Lewis County’s Savannah Anderson received EKC Offensive Player of the Year honors following a sophomore season in which she averaged a double-double (15.7 point, 10.8 rebounds).
Senior Taylor Frye averaged 12.5 points, two assists and shot 78 percent from the foul line for the Lady Lions, who went 18-13.
Bath County’s Sarah Price had a big freshman season, including 14.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, while Russell senior Arden Gross scored her 1,000th career point and averaged 14 points and seven rebounds for the 63rd District champs.
Other selections included: Johnson Central’s Amber Shepherd (19.1 ppg 3.1 rpg); Menifee County’s Paige Warren (17.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Greenup County’s Destiny Jones (16.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg); West Carter’s Brooke Callihan (12.7 ppg); Rowan County’s Faith Conn (15.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg); and Fleming County’s Tierra Taylor, who averaged 10.4 points and helped lead the inexperienced Lady Panthers to the 61st District title.
ALL-AREA SELECTIONS (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Player (School) Year
Savannah Anderson (Lewis County) Sophomore
Brooke Callihan (West Carter) Senior
Faith Conn (Rowan County) Junior
Haley Sue Foutch (Ashland) Sophomore
Logan Fraley (Boyd County) Sophomore
Taylor Frye (Lewis County) Senior
Kaylyn Gambill (Ashland) Senior
Bryana Greenhill (East Carter) Junior
Arden Gross (Russell) Senior
Destiny Jones (Greenup County) Senior
Kristen Mayo (East Carter) Eighth-grader
Taylor Porter (Lawrence County) Senior
Sarah Price (Bath County) Freshman
Alexis Robinson (Ashland) Sophomore
Amber Shepherd (Johnson Central) Senior
Emily Stewart (Boyd County) Senior
Tierra Taylor (Fleming County) Senior
Paige Warren (Menifee County) Senior
Taylor Wheeler (Boyd County) Sophomore
PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Alexis Robinson (Ashland)
COACH OF THE YEAR — Bill Bradley (Ashland)
Honorable Mention: Ashland — Sydney Cullop; Bath County — Tayler Rogers, Shae Sparks; Boyd County — Morgan Kenser; East Carter — Kelsey Stumbo, Megan Stickler; Elliott County — Ashley Holbrook; Fairview — Brittany Bell; Greenup County — Micah Leslie, Sydney Webb; Lawrence County — Kara Kirk, Ashleigh Adkins, Shelby Hay, Savannah Cyrus; Lewis County — Emily Frye; Menifee County — Haley Layne, Ashton Woodard; Morgan County — Cheyenna Ferguson; Paintsville — Shelby Carroll, Andria Hansford, Kerrigan Samons; Raceland — Krystal Keeton; Rose Hill — Myriah Porter; Russell — Hope Parsley.