Jan. 24—The last time the Hancock County High School girls basketball team reached the All 'A' Classic small-school state tournament, the Lady Hornets didn't receive the full-blown experience.
Instead of playing in Eastern Kentucky University's McBrayer Arena in Richmond, the Lady Hornets were forced to play two road games before falling in the quarterfinals during the COVID-limited 2021 season.
This time, however, as Hancock County (12-8) prepares to face the 4th Region's Monroe County (10-7) in the All 'A' first round at 5:30 p.m. CT Wednesday, the Lady Hornets want to take full advantage.
"The girls have worked super hard this year and earned that opportunity," HCHS coach Kevin Husk said Tuesday. "It's cool for them to get this experience. I'm excited for them. We'll have shootaround tomorrow, and then we'll head over to the arena. I'm just really excited for these girls to make these memories and have the chance to get down here and compete."
Nothing fired the team up more than the pep rally Tuesday, when Hancock County middle school and high school students — and the community, as a whole — gathered to wish the Lady Hornets good luck on their way out of town.
"Having all of the students get together, and the band and the cheerleaders, was awesome," Husk added. "Our community has been so supportive, financially even. They got us a charter bus to take there, and we got sirens as we were escorted out of the county. There were people standing all along the road. It has been absolutely incredible to see."
Once the Lady Hornets take the floor, though, they expect a challenge.
They'll face a Monroe County team that enters averaging 49.4 points per game on 39.1% shooting from the field, 29.7% from 3-point range and 57.7% at the free-throw line. The Lady Falcons are led by senior guard Paisley Ford (12.2 ppg) and senior forward Gracie Veach (12.1 ppg) but feature a deep group of contributors.
"Monroe County seems like a real balanced team," Husk said. "They have some seniors, but they also play some middle schoolers. They're a lot like us in that they have some veterans and youth mixed in. They play in a really balanced region where each of their games has been competitive. They're coming in after a tough regional tournament."
The Lady Hornets, meanwhile, are averaging 50.7 points per outing on 34.3% shooting from the floor, 27.9% from beyond the arc and 66.8% at the foul line. Hancock County is paced by junior guard Ella House (13.9 ppg, 7 rpg), senior guard Bailey Poole (13.2 ppg) and junior forward Lily Roberts (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
"I think our girls know who we are and how we need to play," Husk said. "We want to make sure we get out in transition, make sure we take care of the ball and make sure we take care of the boards. I think our girls will be ready for that and ready to do that together."
Though it'll be a different experience playing in a bigger arena, the Lady Hornets know they can rely on their defense — holding opponents to 44.5 points per game — to help shoulder the burden.
"I think we play in a tough district, and those atmospheres with great student sections and gyms filled for district games has helped prepare us, along with playing regular-season games in the Sportscenter," Husk said. "It'll be a little different with the depth perception, but we feel like our defense can hold us down until we get used to playing with a different vantage.
"We know we can get hot and we can rally off 25 points or so like we did against Owensboro Catholic (in the All 'A' regional semifinals), but we know we ultimately win with our defense. We've been able to win games against tough teams because of our defense."
The winner of Wednesday's game will advance to Friday's quarterfinals. The All 'A' Classic semifinals are set for Saturday, with the title game on Sunday.