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Cougars, Lady Cougars readying for basketball season

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ccannon@lafollettepress.com

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The Campbell County Lady Cougars are coming off their first district title since 1991.

However, they lost a lot from last year’s District 3-AAA powerhouse coming into the 2012-13 season.

Losing all five starters and their sixth post off the bench, a lot of depth has graduated. Averaging 55 points last season, the Lady Cougars are only returning 8.4 points per game to this season’s squad.

“We’re a little bit raw,” head coach Ryan Browning said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape. That’s good. That’s something we don’t have to worry about. Offensively, we’re trying to put a new offense in. It’s a little bit different job for the post. Hopefully, that will work out well with the personnel that we’ve got. We’re excited.”

For the Cougars, they return 54 of their 339 assists and 174 of their 922 rebounds from last season. To Browning, however, offense isn’t what they have to worry about.

“I think we can handled the offensive part,” he said. “For me, it’s going to be defense. We talked a little about that in the summer. I still think that will be our achilles heel. It seemed like this summer, we had trouble getting stops when we needed to. We would foul or reach at the wrong time, and that’s just part of being on the court.”

The Lady Cougars return three major contributors to last season’s district championship run. Emily Byrge, Nikki Ward, and Hannah Owens return, as Byrge and Ward are seniors.

“Hannah Owens is a post,” Browning said. “Even with Hannah being a junior, she’s played a lot of minutes. She’s rotated in and out for two years. If we can get the ball deep in the paint to her, she’s going to be very successful. If she catches the ball near the goal, it’s an 85, 90 percent chance she’s getting a good look.”

Last season, Owens contributed 80 points. Her 91 rebounds ranked as fifth on the team, as she recorded 18 blocks. Only Maria Foust (39) and Kristen Chapman (32) outpaced Owens in blocked shots.

Byrge and Ward both combined for 221 points as Ward dropped 137. Byrge shot 38 percent from the floor.

“Nikki and Emily shot the ball great last year,” Browning said. “If they can duplicate what they did with that, that’ll be great. Nikki is going to bounce in between point guard and a wing. Emily’s defense, that’s one thing that’s consistent. That’s her best part of her game, but last year, she stepped up and shot the ball well.”

Cougars looking for good season

The Cougar squad comes into this season not knowing what to expect. After losing Nick Litton, Tyler Chapman and Tuffy Shoupe the Cougars are looking for some names to step up and fill those positions.

“It’s kind of not knowing what to expect this year with losing so much last year,” head coach Matt Housley said. “We know what we have coming back, and we know what the district has coming back, to an extent. I think Gunner can have a successful season. He played really well in the Rocky Top League this fall. Corey Poteet’s been playing super well.”

However, possibly one of the biggest knocks to the Campbell County squad is the loss of Ethan Simpson. Simpson tore his ACL during the Cumberland County football game in September, thus being sidelined for the season.

To Housley, it’s not his points their going to miss the most.

“Ethan, there’s no replacing him,” he said. “He’s a really good guard for us, and I love the way he plays. Really, the biggest thing that we’re going to miss is his calming presence out there. He’s been doing this for three years and started. It’s going to be tough to replace him on the court, but I think the thing we’re going to miss most is his leadership.”

To Housely, however, there are plenty of other options for leadership. With seven other seniors on the squad, this could be seen as a veteran group as six of the seven have two or three years of experience at Campbell County.

“Everybody does their own thing leadership wise,” Housley commented. “Gunner is a great leader in getting people here. Corey is more of a motivator on the court. If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, usually I don’t have to let you know, because Corey’s probably already let you know. Ethan’s still going to be big for us out there working with the kids.”

For the Cougars, their district schedule is sure to be as tough as usual. Oak Ridge, Halls and Karns all returned key players, making them the favorites for the 2012-13 season in District 3-AAA.

“Those three, in a lot of people’s minds, are three to watch,” Housley said. “The rest of the district, we’re trying to figure out. They’ve got a lot of new guys, and we’ve got a lot of new guys. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

“Oak Ridge lost a few, but they’ve got the big 6-foot-6 lefty coming back. They’ll always have pretty good guards.”

The Cougars and Lady Cougars are set to tipoff on Nov. 13 in Lenoir City. The home opener is set for Nov. 16 against Sevier County.