Changing of the Guard: WJHS girls basketball team on the rise in 12th Region

Published 4:34 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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By John Estes

For the Journal

The West Jessamine Girls Basketball team got their 12th win in a row with a 65-47 victory over East Jessamine Friday night. As of Tuesday, the team is now 20-6 on the season and has received votes in the state’s top 25 rankings.

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Earlier last week, the Lady Colts beat Mercer County for the second time this season. Mercer County has been the powerhouse of the 46th District for the previous 20 years. Before West’s 52-42 victory, Mercer had not lost a district game since 2006.

The team is led by a freshman and four sophomores who have been playing together since middle school. The expectations were high this year after losing a close game to Pulaski County in the 12th Region Tournament last year. 

Coach Matt Hilkens and his coaching staff are hoping to make a run in the regional fray. 

“Our youth is great, and we have really talented younger players, but the flip side of that is that we do not have the same experience that teams with older players have,” Hilkens said.

Hilkens is in his second year leading the West team and has brought his years of college coaching experience to the program. 

Hilken’s system and philosophy have helped an already talented team achieve goals that had been out of the reach of the West girl’s program since its start. 

West is the favorite to win the 46th District, which would be the first district championship in the school’s history. 

Beyond setting multiple team records, most wins in a season, most points in a season, several players are breaking school records. Over the last 12 games, the Lady Colts have averaged 65 points per game and held opponents to an average of 43 points per game. The Lady Colts have held seven opponents to under 40 points in a game. 

“Our team success definitely starts on the defensive end,” Hilkens said. “If we can get stops consistently, that means we can get out and run in transition consistently, which usually leads to success. In order to win a championship, you have to take pride in the defensive side of the ball. We have seen it this year where our offense comes and goes, shooting comes and goes, but if your defense shows up every game then you will give yourself a chance to be successful at the end of the day.” 

The Colts’ six losses came earlier in the season, were tight games against teams ranked in the RPI top 50. Those losses served as valuable experience against teams that are expected to contend for championships in their regions. 

“When I think about scheduling each season, we try to schedule the hardest schedule possible that makes sense logistically travel-wise. I want to play teams that win or lose are going to challenge us to get better. If the ultimate goal is to win a regional championship and make it to Rupp Arena, then I do not believe that you can be afraid to play anyone, but instead use each game as an opportunity to improve as a team,” Hilkens said.

The Colts are a balanced bunch.

Forward Claire Marshall, a freshman, has already scored a thousand points in her career and has broken the school record for rebounds. Sophomore guards Ariana Mcloney and Katie Mastin are both on the verge of breaking the mark for the most 3-pointers in a season. Marshall is averaging 17 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Mastin is averaging 12 points per game. Isabella Lewis and Kimberly Johnson are each averaging 9 points. Senior Morgan Dowell has also played a vital role in the season. 

The balance comes in handy for a message that Hilkens often reminds his team of.

“One thing that I try to emphasize with this team is that any night could be your night,” he said.