Lady Dragons riding 1-2 punch back into regional picture

By John Henson, Managing Editor

Star power has been a trademark of championship Harlan girls basketball teams through the years.
Debbie Hoskins led Harlan to its first regional title in 1987, earning all-state honors and signing with the University of Kentucky along the way.
Hall of Fame coach E.R. “Doc” Gray took the Lady Dragons to consecutive 13th Region titles in 1998 and 1999 with a lineup led by current Harlan coach Tiffany Hamm, along with Krissy Hatfield and Kristy Clem.
Coach Derrick Akal and all-state guard Jordan Brock repeated the back-to-back feat in 2016 and 2017 before the program once again fell on hard times.
After three straight losing seasons, Hamm and the Lady Dragons may have the ingredients to challenge once again with a young lineup led by the freshman forward tandem of Aymanni Wynn and Kylie Noe. Wynn, at 6-foot, is a three-year starter who averaged 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season. The 5-8 Noe averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game in her first season as a starter.
“I feel they are a great 1-2 punch. They are super versatile.They can play the 1-4 offensively and defensively. They are both unselfish kids and they play well together,” Hamm said. “They are good athletes. I’m looking for a big year from those two.
“Aymanni can play anywhere. She is the most versatile player we have. She could play 1 through 5. She has a much improved outside shot. Already I felt she was one of the better defenders in the region because she can guard multiple positions. I think she will have a monster year. Kylie has a much improved outside shot. She will play a lot of guard for us also. She is one of the most athletic players in the region.”
Even with a roster that features no seniors, Hamm is confident this should be her best team in Harlan.
“This is the most talented bunch since I’ve been here,” she said. “We just don’t have a lot of experience yet. We just have to mature as far as communication and some of the other things experience teams do that make them a good unit. We just need to mature in communication and the little things that help you win and lose games.”
Emma Owens (6.6, 2.3) is back for her second sophomore season as the Lady Dragons’ point guard.
“I think she has definitely improved her ball-handling and finishing,” Hamm said. “She has always been pretty tenacious on the defensive end. We want her to continue to improve her outside shot.”
Faith Hoskins (5.0, 3.3), a sophomore, is back at a wing where she gave the Lady Dragons’ offense a boost at times last season.
“She has a super high motor and is skilled offensively and defensively,” Hamm said. “Faith is probably our fastest player. She gets us going. She plays hard.”
Leah Davis, a freshman forward, could also earn a starting job in her first year at Harlan.
“She can flat shoot it and is good in the post. She’s tough and smart. She makes good decisions,” Hamm said.
Peighton Jones (2.0, 3.4), a junior forward, is also in the mix for a starting job inside.
“She could start for us at the four or five,” Hamm said. “She’s the best vocal leader we have and is really versatile. She is one of our best defenders.”
Scarlett Rowe, a sophomore, provides a 3-point threat off the bench.
“She will definitely get some minutes,” Hamm said. “She is a good shooter who plays hard and can get up and down the court. She and Faith are interchangeable and she could also help Emma at the point.”
The Lady Dragons struggled with turnovers last year and finished 8-15. Hamm expects improvement in that area this season.
“We’re going to get up and down the floor and we’re still young, so there will still be some of that, but I think it will be better,” Hamm said. “We’ve worked on ball-handling, and I think Emma having another summer under her belt will help us. “This should be the best offensive team I’ve had.”
Hamm also likes the Lady Dragons’ balance and depth.
“I feel we can play eight or nine, and I hope we can up and down the floor,” she said. “We have a lot of moving pieces.”
Harlan has won the All “A” Classic regional title more than anyone else but hasn’t made the trip to the small school state tournament since Brock and company were the state runner-up in 2017. She expects Jackson County to provide the stiffest test in reaching that goal.
“I anticipate Jackson County will be pretty good, but it’s definitely my goal for us to win the All ‘A’ and I feel we should be in the district finals,” Hamm said. “I feel if we can get these kids some experience in the state All ‘A’ and the regional tournament it will help us down the line because our core will be together several years.”