Last season, the Alice Lloyd College Lady Eagles were picked in the pre-season to finish near the bottom of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. However, under the leadership of first–year Coach John Mills, they shocked the entire league by finishing as conference runner-up and advancing to the KIAC Tournament Championship game before falling to top ranked Indiana University-Southeast. This year’s edition has hopes of advancing one step further and reaching the elusive NAIA National Championship, held this year in Sioux City, Iowa. Starters Whitney Frazier, Nicole Lutes, and Chelsee Jarrell are gone from last year’s squad; but, after returning two key starters, several important role players, and an excellent recruiting class, Mills and his club will not sneak up on anyone this season.
The key returning players include senior forward Gemma Gray (Manchester) and sophomore forward Ariel Nickell. Gray had a solid junior season as she finished the year averaging 11.6 points per game while connecting on 45% from the field, 45% from downtown, and 76% from the charity stripe. She also was second on the team in rebounding, hauling down 4.6 per contest. She will definitely be counted on for leadership this year.
Nickell (Tazwell, TN) had a remarkable freshman season, finishing among the conference’s leaders in numerous categories. These include: points per game (16.3), rebounds (8.4), and field goal percentage (53.2). She also led her club with 48 steals. She was the only freshman named to the All-Conference squad last season and has improved her game over the summer.
Senior sharpshooter Bailey Gabbard (Knoxville, TN) returns from an injury shortened season ready to provide her trademark long–range bombing. Despite missing 14 of the 29 games with a major ankle injury, she still finished third on the squad in 3–point baskets made and averaged 7.8 points per game.
Fellow seniors Sarah Burchell (Manchester) and Nikki Durman (Lexington) both return from groundbreaking seasons. After the injury to Gabbard, Burchell immensely stepped up her role in the backcourt, and she was a vital cog in the season–ending run. Durman was a force on the boards, using her size, strength, and defensive ability to contribute important minutes off the bench.
Sophomore Courtney Crowder (Cumberland Gap, TN) earned minutes with her hustle and defensive grit, while fellow sophomore Shannon Bays (Whitesburg) has demonstrated a good shooting touch and hustle of her own. Both will vie for minutes this season, as well. Sophomore transfer Laken Gilliam (Church Hill, TN) is a strong inside presence and is expected to provide instant offensive help in the middle.
Coach Mills is really excited about the large crop of freshman he was able to bring to Caney Creek, and he expects big things from his new recruits. The freshmen include: Chelsea Brown( Frankfort), Lacinda Hack(Frankfort), Taylor Hott(Thelma), Andrea House(London), Carla McDaniel(Sneedville, TN), Misti Minix (Salyersville) , LeeAnna Moses (Williamsburg) , Leanne Mullins(Saltlick), ShaLeigh Roaden(Corbin), and Hayley Smith(Corbin).
“I’m really excited about the group I’m coaching this year,” said Mills. “I believe they have great potential to be very competitive in our conference. Our schedule is going to be challenging with 12 games against teams considered among their league’s best.” Mills added, “It’s great that we are viewed and talked about with these fine opponents, and this year’s schedule will show us just where our program stands among the top–level teams.”