Bill Bradley expects his 40th season coaching high school basketball to be a special one for the 16th Region — and, he hopes, for Ashland.
“It’s gonna be a crazy, crazy year, more than any other year we’ve had since I’ve been there,” the Kittens’ coach said. “This is my 19th year (at Ashland), and I can’t remember it being so balanced and deep. Before, it was us, East and Boyd, and then us, Rowan and Boyd. And before, back in the early 2000s, it was West, us, Boyd and Russell. Now five teams (are strong), and another team could slip in there and beat somebody on a given night. As far as balance, this is probably the best year we’ve had since I’ve been at Ashland.”
Put the Kittens squarely in that mix, Bradley said, in large part because they return their top six scorers and three leading rebounders from last season, and because they can play inside-out to take advantage of Julia Parker’s perimeter prowess or dump it to Morgan Bradley and Mikayla Martin in the post.
Ashland relied on a power game early in Bradley’s tenure and later went guard-oriented with the Robinson sisters and a series of talented 3-point shooters. Now the Kittens can do both.
“We’ve got Julia, who I consider the best shooter in the region, by far, and probably the best shooter I’ve ever had,” Bradley said. “She’s automatic. And then the way Morgan came on last year, when Mikayla got hurt, Morgan really stepped up and came into her own. With those two working inside and Julia outside, we can cause some problems for people this year.”
Concurred Morgan, Bill’s daughter: “Mikayla and I, I think we play really well off of each other, and we just kind of have this connection, and I think that helps with us inside and it helps establish a good outside, with Julia and our other shooters.”
Parker scored 15.8 ppg last season, converting 77 of 224 3-pointers (34.4%) and 80 of 98 free throws (81.6%). She has added a driving component to her game, Bradley said, after learning from becoming opposing defenses’ focal point last winter with Mykasa Robinson gone to Louisville.
Martin was 1.1 rebounds per game shy of averaging a double-double (10.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) despite battling some ankle trouble, and Morgan Bradley was close behind her (11.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
Ashland must replace graduated point guard Emma Fulton. Bradley called that the Kittens’ key. Freshman Jenna Adkins is getting the first look at that spot.
Junior Carley Cullop (4.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg last season) will also play some point guard, Bradley said, as well as everywhere else as the Kittens’ most versatile player.
Senior Jada Miller (3.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg) will play the 3, Bradley said, and senior Sydney Sorrell (3.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) brings energy to the 4 spot.
Twin sophomores Casey and Lindsay Wallenfelsz, who transferred from Russell, will figure into the mix somewhere.
“We’re as deep as we’ve been in several years,” Bradley said, “and I think that’s gonna be a key as well.”
Ashland is a little behind schedule because of its soccer success. Adkins, Morgan Bradley, Martin and Sorrell were aboard the LadyCats club that reached its first state semifinal and played its final match on Halloween night — 16 days after basketball practice started.
“I remember (former Ashland boys coaches) Buddy Biggs and Mike Flynn always having that problem in football. (People would say) ‘Ah, you can get over it, you know you got a good team,’” Bradley half-joked. “It’s been tough. We’re definitely a couple weeks behind where we usually are. But they’ve really worked hard the last two weeks.”
That has also shown itself in the Kittens’ demeanor, their coach said. They’ve seen what three-time defending region champion Boyd County has done — including a trip to the state semifinals two seasons ago — and want their own return to the glory enjoyed from 2012-15.
“These girls are hungry,” Bradley said. “I can’t see any team more hungry than we are right now, because we remember what it was like to be on top. ... Success breeds success, and we knew we weren’t gonna lose back then. Even when girls graduated, the next year, the girls thought they could win it all again. So I’m sure Boyd will have that mindset.”
Bradley enters his 40th season coaching high school basketball and 41st overall. He broke in in 1978 at his alma mater, Holy Family, where he coached for six years, three as the boys’ basketball head coach. Bradley moved on to Livingston University in Alabama for a year, took a year off after that, then joined Boyd County as a boys basketball assistant and head softball coach. He was there for 15 years before moving on to Ashland.