8th Region/32nd District girls basketball preview: Simon Kenton, Walton-Verona seek deeper postseason runs

G. Michael Graham
G. Michael Graham
Mike Graham covers sports for LINK nky

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The Anderson County Bearcats led by last year’s Kentucky Miss Basketball Amyia Jenkins have won the last three 8th Region titles.

But now that Jenkins graduated and took her talents to the University of Kentucky, consensus is the region is wide open. The Simon Kenton Pioneers and Walton-Verona Bearcats hope to make it back to the region tournament while the Grant County Braves could battle both for a spot in it.

Walton-Verona Bearcats

Rianna Gayheart, a former Owen County and Northern Kentucky University player, enters her first full season as head coach. She took over during last season after veteran head coach Mark Clinkenbeard had to step down because of health issues.

“I really like our energy,” Gayheart said. “I think they’re excited to play a more exciting style of basketball. They work hard. The numbers are few like a lot of the surrounding schools. But they put a lot into it every day.”

The Bearcats finished 15-14 winning a fourth straight 32nd District championship when point guard Audrey Carrico hit a jumper as time expired before losing 54-49 to Spencer County in the region quarterfinals at Grant County. Carrico graduated along with wing Kylie Lay and center Maggie Buerger. They accounted for just more than 40 percent of Bearcat scoring last year.

But Walton-Verona returns its leading scorer and rebounder from last year in senior 5-10 wing Grace Brewer who averaged 15.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season. The other two seniors, point guard McKaila Hatton and wing Jenna Rodgers, split time starting.

“We’re a lot younger than years past,” Brewer said. “So off the court, we try to be friendly to the younger girls saying hello trying to build those trusting relationships. So when they’re on the court, they’ll have more confidence to come to us like they’ll have a place on the team and they’re not on their own.”

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The Bearcats primarily used an eight-player rotation with two sophomores in guard Cam Christy and 6-1 forward Braylin Terrell rounding it out. Two guards, junior Avery Geiman and eighth grader Elin Logue saw action in 17 games, and junior Macy Sawyer rounds out the rotation for now.

The Bearcats hope to push the tempo and run the motion halfcourt offense and a mixture of zone and man defenses. They outscored opponents, 1648-1459 and grabbed 779 rebounds. They made 615 of 1479 shots for 42 percent including 161 of 539 three-point tries for 30 percent and 256 of 370 free throws for 69 percent.

Walton-Verona last won the 8th Region and All “A” state crown in 2012. The Bearcats hope to go back to the All “A” State tournament after missing out on it last year. They finished All “A” state runner-up three years in a row between 2019 and 2021.

The Bearcats open the season Nov. 29 at home against Conner. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Simon Kenton 5-4 eighth grade guard Brynli Pernell (4) gets down in defensive position in the 32nd District semifinals against Williamstown last year. Pernell returns to run the point guard for Simon Kenton this year. Photo provided | Carla Martin

Simon Kenton Pioneers

Simon Kenton promoted assistant coach Brenden Stowers to head coach after his dad Jeffrey retired.

The Pioneers finished 17-13 last year losing 77-67 to Anderson County in the region quarterfinals, after losing 56-54 to Walton-Verona in the district title game. Simon Kenton graduated three starting seniors from that team, guards Alexis Baker and Teanna Griffin, and center Sereniti Webb.

“They bring the energy every single day. First and foremost, that’s all I ask them to do is bring the maximum effort,” Stowers said. “Our job as coaches is to put them in the right places. As of right now, they’re really jelling as a unit. The goal for this year is to grow as much as we can to put ourselves in a position at the end of the year to do some damage or go as far as we can go.”

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The two returning starters are senior forward Emilee Eggleston and eighth grade guard Brynli Pernell. Freshman forward/guard Anna Kelch had eight to 10 starts down the stretch. Eggleston averaged 10.6 points per game.

The Pioneers have four seniors total. The other three are guard/forward Belle Bach, guard Edyn Chenot and forward Joyce Cooper. Two other junior guards, Rylie Flynn and Ava Slusser, saw significant varsity time last year and freshman 6-ft. guard/forward Haylie Webb hopes to give the Pioneers some paint presence.

“I’m excited for the season,” Bach said of senior leadership. “My freshman year we had seniors Maggie Jones, Morgan Stamper lay down that foundation. I just want to continue that with Emilee, Joyce and Edyn.”

Stowers said two Lloyd Memorial transfers could give the Pioneers depth. They are junior 5-10 forward Addelyn Bohms and sophomore 5-3 guard Ava Schweri.

The Pioneers hope to play an up-tempo style of basketball, pressuring the basketball and running the motion offense in the halfcourt and play mostly a man-to-man defense. Simon Kenton outscored opponents, 1816-1651 last year and grabbed 886 rebounds. The Pioneers made 652 of 1,715 shots for 38 percent including 204 of 667 three-point tries for 31 percent and 308 of 471 free throws for 65 percent.

Simon Kenton last won both a region and district championship in 2018. The last region tournament win for the Pioneers came in 2019.

The Pioneers open the season at home Nov. 28 against the defending All “A” state champion Owen County Rebels at 7:30 p.m.

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