Prep Hoops Preview: Lady Panthers have high hopes with eight returning
The Ledford Panthers could not have opened the 2012 season with a much better outcome, as they netted a 52-50 win over archrival North Davidson on Tuesday.
Panther faithful can only hope the ending of the season is as promising as its beginning. Coach John Ralls returns eight players from a squad that finished last season with a record of 23-5 after losing to eventual state champion Harding High School.
"We lost of the second round to a team that ended up winning the 3-A state championship," Ralls said. "We were seeded second or third and were playing a team ranked No. 2 in the state."
Postseason experience for seniors Leanne Midkiff, Emmalee Thomas, Sydney Stroud, Samantha Miller and Jada Bell will be invaluable as Ledford vies to win back-to-back Mid-Piedmont 3-A championships.
Sophomore Mackenzie Cranford — who played starter's minutes as a freshman — is back as the Panthers' primary ball handler. The point guard will be feeding the post with great regularity, as Midkiff and Bell represent a team strength in the frontcourt, while Thomas and junior Courtney Callicutt give Ledford a tandem of excellent perimeter shooters.
"We've got to do several things well," Ralls said. "We have to shoot the ball well and do all the little things it takes to win ball games. The good thing is that we've got kids who can do those things. We've got perimeter players, some inside scoring, so if we can execute and play together, we've got a chance to be good."
The Panthers also have solid depth among their guards, as sophomore Julia Carroll and Miller will be given every opportunity to log considerable minutes at the wing positions. Brie Grier, a junior transfer from High Point Central, will serve as agitator of their second unit.
Depth will undoubtedly be significant on the defensive side of the ball, where Ralls intends to maintain pressure on opposing teams for 84 feet.
"On defense, we're going to try to do what we always set out to do," said Ralls. "We want to pressure the ball, rebound well and hope to keep people from dribble-driving on us."
Standing in the way of Ledford's defense of its title are five schools. Southern Guilford, Asheboro, North Forsyth, Northeast Guilford and Southwestern Randolph will test the Panthers' mettle with a variation of styles. Among the schools projected to contend for a MPC title this season, Ralls believes Southwestern Randolph represents a formidable challenge.
"In their first game, they had three kids who all scored over 15 points in that game," Ralls said. "(The Cougars) added another really good guard. They're legit, they're really good."
Maintaining nearly every major cog of a five-loss squad will place Ledford in a position to fear no competition. Neither 4-A North Davidson or any conference foes should rattle this experienced group.
Perhaps the MPC championship isn't even the only title the Panthers will be chasing this year.