With GHS facing closure at the end of this year with the new Mingo Central High School opening its doors next school year, it’s the last season for the Lady Lions on the hardwood.
Gilbert coach Don Taylor would like nothing more than to take his Lady Lions to the Class A state tournament in March at the Charleston Civic Center in the final roundball campaign for GHS. The task, though, won’t be easy.
The Lady Lions return just one starter from last year’s team which went 16-7 and lost in the regional tournament to Charleston Catholic but Gilbert is motivated to make one last splash before the school closes its doors.
Danielle Butcher, a junior, is Gilbert’s lone starter who is coming back from last year’s squad and will be heavily counted on to lead the Lady Lions this season.
Three other Gilbert players saw ample time on the hardwood last year in junior Kalenia Ellis, sophomore Chrissy Farmer and junior Brianna New.
Gilbert loses Crystal Lester, a 1,000-point career scorer, Keasha Browning and Brittani Kirk to graduation. The Lady Lions are the returning Class A sectional champs. Gilbert has won the sectional crown in three out of the last four seasons.
“We only have one true starter back but at the same token I have four girls who played considerable minutes last year,” Taylor said. “We lose two starters. Crystal was the only girl in school history to close out her career with 1,000 points and a 1,000 rebounds. It’s going to be tough replace her. You really can’t replace her. You just learn to play without her.”
Sophomore Danielle Browning, a post player, and junior Catherine Browning, also figure into Gilbert’s plans.
“They will see plenty of time,” Taylor said.
Rounding out the roster are: sophomores Chelsea Lambert and Candace Trent; and freshmen Whittani Kirk, Madeline Mullens and Shelly Christian.
There are no seniors on Gilbert’s roster.
The Lady Lions are scheduled to open the season on Thursday at the Tolsia tourney. Gilbert will also play Friday in the tournament. Then it’s back home for the annual Mollette-Murphy Tournament, Dec. 17-18 at the GHS gym.
Gilbert will then play in a third straight tourney Dec. 27-29 at the Belfry, Ky., Christmas tournament.
The Lady Lions’ schedule is a tough one with a home-and-home series against Class AA preseason No. 2 Westside, a home-and-home against 2A River View and a single game in the regular season finale against 2A and Mingo County rival Tug Valley on Feb. 16.
“We beefed up the schedule quite a bit,” Taylor said. “We always seem to run up against Charleston Catholic and we just don’t normally face up against anybody that plays the way that they play. We start out in the Tolsia tourney and there’s four really good teams in that. Over Christmas break, we play three Kentucky schools in the Belfry tourney.”
In Gilbert’s Class A sectional again are Man, Burch, Matewan, Williamson and Van.
“Man and Burch are always tough,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the Lady Lions would like to make their last season a memorable one. Gilbert merges with Williamson, Matewan and Williamson into the new Mingo Central High School next fall.
“We’ve never been to the state tournament,” Taylor said. “We’ve been one step away quite a few times. We really felt like last year we were probably the better team but they just flat out came in here and beat us. We want to get to Charleston and ultimately that’s what we’re playing for. So we beefed up the schedule and we’re working very hard.”