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HOOPS PREVIEW SERIES: Lady Cougars ready for next step

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Patrick County girls basketball

Patrick County’s girls basketball team runs sprints during a recent practice.

Patrick County’s girls basketball team may have surprised some teams last season. Led by First-Team All-Conference 32 point guard Autumn Hubbard and Second-Team All-Conference 32 guard Lindsey Marshall, the Lady Cougars went 13-10 and were a game away from the Region 3A West tournament.

This year’s team will be without three seniors who graduated last year, but now a team that was youthful and inexperienced a year ago is a veteran team ready to take the next step.

Hubbard is one of three seniors on the team this year and Marshall leads a strong core of six juniors into the upcoming season under first-year head coach Donny Rakes. Former head coach Mike Hedrick left for Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke after last season and Rakes, a Patrick County graduate, takes over for his alma mater.

“Not a lot of people get to come back home,” Rakes said. “I really feel blessed.”

Rakes spent the last five years as the JV coach at PC, so the transition from Hedrick to Rakes has gone smoothly.

“I’ve coached every girl,” Rakes said. “It’s been a really smooth transition.”

The biggest transition has been and will be learning Rakes’ new defensive system. Hedrick almost exclusively ran zone and trap defenses a year ago. Rakes is a man-to-man coach.

“For us to be successful we’re going to have to be more sound defensively in terms of fundamentals. We didn’t play any man-to-man last year. None. And we are this year,” Rakes said.

Rakes said the team will be leaning heavily on Hubbard as the go-to playmaker this season. The problem? She’s still not 100 percent after an offseason injury.

“We start and finish with Autumn Hubbard. She is our absolute leader,” Rakes said. “(She’s) just now getting into shape. If she’s not healthy, we’re going to struggle.”

If Hubbard is to get off to a slow start, it will fall to Marshall, Izzy Beasley and Hannah Roberson, three of the team’s six juniors returning from last year’s squad.

“(They) have the potential to be dynamic scorers,” Rakes said. “That’s a good, solid core group there.”

The other player that Rakes said will have a big role as a leader is senior Alexus Cain.

“She’s our team leader. She’s the one kids look to,” Rakes said.

The two freshmen, Sierra Hubbard and Abigail Dillon, both stand 6-feet or taller and both provide great, exciting potential. Rakes pointed out that it is still all potential, but the program is excited about what those two could provide this year and beyond.

“(Sierra Hubbard) has the potential to be a great high school basketball player,” he said.

Rakes said that Hubbard is a left-handed player and is the second faster player on the team at 6-foot. Dillon is 6-foot-2 and Rakes thinks she’ll be ready to make an impact this season.

“She’s coming on. I look for her to play a role this year,” he said.

If those two become key pieces in the rotation this season, the 13-10 record from last year has the potential to be shattered.

“One key to our season will be the maturation of our freshmen,” Rakes said.

Although the potential is there for a great season, Rakes said the team isn’t worried about expectations and goals. It’s all about becoming a better team as the season advances.

“My immediate goal for this group is that they become better basketball players and better people in March than they are right now,” he said.

When the end of the season nears, that means teams will be priming for the return of the Piedmont District tournament. Rakes played in that tournament and thinks it’s a good tournament to have back.

“I’m personally excited about it,” he said. “I always thought it was a big deal.”

Patrick County’s season begins November 29 at home against Hidden Valley.

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