**Update: 12/30/20, 11:30AM: Moments after publishing this story, we received word that the boys will delay their season one week due to a positive COVID test from someone within the team today. This does not affect the girls team at this time.
Darren Doyle, story:
While the seasons will look like none others in the past, high school basketball is ready to begin in Edmonson County as well as all across Kentucky.
We stopped by practices held by both the Lady Cats and Wildcats this week and sat down with Lady Cat Head Coach Bart Weaver, who is looking to bring home a 4th consecutive district title, and Wildcat Head Coach Mike McClintic (Coach Mac) who is entering his 43rd year in his coaching career.
Here's a look at each team and what these coaches expect from each one going into what has already been a rollercoaster preseason.
ECHS Lady Cats, 2020-21
Girls basketball in Edmonson County is experiencing the most success it's ever seen; coming off a 20-11 season where they brought home the school's third consecutive district championship. Coach Bart Weaver will begin his third season as the head of the program that has already been up-and-down with the virus pandemic that hit shortly after the season ended last year.
"The pandemic just put everyone in a bind," Weaver said. "We were just getting ready for our off-season where we start workouts and activities again during spring break; then all of that was just gone. It cost us some conditioning but I really feel like our girls bounced back and have worked really hard to make up for it."
With the bar being set very high for Edmonson County, Weaver said expectations for his team and continued success still compare to what they've been for years.
"We're going to see a deficiency in rebounding--that's just a fact," he said. The team lost three seniors from last year that had over 500 career rebounds each. "But we're getting better, and on the plus-side, we're more athletic. With that, you'll see more pressing because I think we have better conditioning, even after COVID delayed our season. We're only looking at about 14 kids on the roster, so with a reduced number, you've got more kids getting more action in practices."
Three seniors are returning for the Lady Cats: point guard Katie Lindsey, and guards Macie McCombs and Shea VanMeter.
"Katie is sort of our 'general' the way she leads our team," he said. "Personally, I think she's the best point guard in the district. She's just so competitive and a great leader. With Macie coming back, we've got the best percentage 3-point shooter around, and Shea is also a shooter that's really improved her defensive work."
Underclassmen expected to contribute for the varsity team are juniors Paige Wolfe, who is considered the team's top defender, Jaedlyn Simon, and Hallie Cassady, and sophomores Lily Jayne Vincent and Emma White.
"I think our district is wide open and all four teams match up pretty well," he said. "I think overall, we're all about pretty equal and it will be competitive. We're getting better every day and our goal is another district championship."
With the success over the last three years, losing scorers and rebounders from last year, and having a smaller roster, some might see as the bar set too high for continued success, but Weaver doesn't see it that way.
"I don't see the bar too high at all. I've always had high expectations. If you want to have a winning program, the expectations have to be high."
Attendance regulations are among the hot topics that have been discussed during the pandemic and fans at ECHS are going to see a much different gym setup this season, both at home and on the road. Home seating will be limited to up to four tickets per player (approximately 120-130 seats) and visiting teams can purchase up to two tickets per player (approx. 60-70 seats). Attendance is left up to the opposing teams when the Lady Cats are on the road. There will also be no cheer or band for the first two weeks of the season. That also means no student section, also known as Wildcat Alley, which will also affect the game experience.
Coaches are expected to wear masks during practices and games, and benches are required to practice social distancing, despite the fact players are making full body contact throughout the entire game.
"I obviously don't like all the regulations and all this we have to do, but we have to do it," he said. "The other teams all face the same thing. This year, we have to play for each other. We've always played as a team, but this year we MUST rely on each other and I may be wrong, but I really feel like we're ready to play."
ECHS Wildcat Basketball 2020-21
The boys basketball team is facing the same issues caused by the COVID pandemic as not only the girls team, but every other team in Kentucky, and it's also been a hurdle for the team to overcome. Coach Mac credited not only his players but also the parents for pulling together to help get the season started off right.
"We've had to cram a lot of stuff in a short period of time, but we've done it," he said. "We had no summer ball and that was a real setback, but our kids have been great and I can't say enough about our parents for their roles in helping us do what we need to do."
McClintic said in the midst of the issues caused by the pandemic, the chemistry in the locker room has been outstanding, and is the reason things have gotten off to a good start.
"These guys are good kids and they're great together," he said. "There's a great atmosphere in the locker room where you know everyone wants to be around each other. Our older kids have shown some great leadership and our younger guys have been great by following it."
The makeup of this year's varsity team will likely revolve around 8 to 10 players, Mac said, and will rely on the leadership of seven seniors. Five of those seniors have varsity experience, which include center Chaz Wilson, who led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding (14ppg, 10 rpg) as a sophomore. He was hindered much of the season last year with an injury but was still able to average 10ppg and nearly 7rpg.
Other seniors expected to see a majority of playing time are Gavin Rose, a guard, and forwards Jon Smith and Isaiah Johnson, as well as returning forward/center Daniel Woosley. Dylan Lindsey and Lane Lindsey round out the seniors for the team.
Coach Mac said to also expect action from junior Trace Taylor, and sophomores Braden Wall and Tyler Anderson. Other juniors and two freshmen might also see some varsity playing time.
"We lost some guys from last year but we have more depth than most people might think," he said. "Most all these guys are good at something and everyone will have a role to play."
Much like the girls, District 12 play looks much of the same, Mac said.
"I feel good about our district. I don't see one particular team having a huge advantage over another. It's going to be competitive."
Coach Mac said this year's schedule is probably the toughest he's seen so far as head coach.
"I'll probably get criticized for the toughness of our schedule this year, but I don't think you get better if you don't play tough teams. I'm hoping this will get us where we're playing our best when tournament time comes."
Both Lady Cats and Wildcats will open their seasons on Monday, January 4th at home as ECHS hosts the All A Classic, where both teams will take on Owensboro Catholic.
"Catholic is always a tough team and they're favored heavily in the All A," said McClintic. "They've got two of the top-rated players in the region. I think it's good for us to start off with a good team. If we win, we advance. If we don't, we'll still work on the next game."
The Wildcats will focus on pushing the ball as much as possible on the offense while seeing more motion and movement.
"We want to make it hard for teams to defend us. And on the defensive side, you'll see some different zones and what I call some 'junk' defenses," which are used to create confusion for opponents.
"As always, our assistants have been great, with Jodi Booth and Jackson Saase, returning, and new assistant Brad Johnson has been great to work with. He's a heckuva coach."
With the attendance issues, Mac said the bench will have to be the cheering section.
"I'm a little worried about the lack of noise, which is a huge part of basketball," he said. "Our bench guys will have to help cheer the other guys on when they're not in the game. It's going to be different, but we're going to give it out best. Our goal is to win the district championship and do some real damage in the region tournament. We plan on getting better as the season goes along and be ready when tournament time gets here."
The WildcatsLive crew will broadcast most games this season on the Edmonson Voice and will stream live video where available internet will allow. The girls will take on Owensboro Catholic Monday, January 4th at 6pm. The boys will play immediately following.