When it comes to picking a favorite to win the 89th annual National City Bank Sweet many coaches believe up six teams have a chance at winning the state championship with many believing defending state champion South Laurel (27-5) having the best chance.
If the Cardinals do win, South Laurel will become the first team to repeat as state champions since Fairdale accomplished the feat in 1990 and 91. Though his team has been tagged with the “Favorite label,” Steve Wright neither his coaching staff or his players are feeling any added pressure.
“If we were coming in not having any success, I would say the pressure is on us,” he said. “Since we have played well the last few times up here, I think we can just come out and execute and have fun. We are still serious about the path we are on, but we want to have fun on the way,” he added.
Other teams that are looking to have fun and challenge the Cardinals for the state championship are: Pleasure Ridge Park (27-5), Jeffersontown (28-3), John Hardin (26-4), Shelby County (30-3), Warren Central (26-6), Covington Catholic (24-6), Madison Central (25-7) and Boyle County (21-9).
Boyle County head coach Ronnie Bottom guided his Rebels past South Laurel earlier in the season, but admitted the Cardinals are the team to beat, but he also likes his own teamıs chances, too.
“South Laurel is the favorite because of so much experience,” he said. “You can’t win it if you’re not there and we’re here, so we have a shot.”
Boyle County is led by center Brian Staed’s 22 point scoring average.
Christian County coach Kerry Stovall seconded Bottom’s thoughts about South Laurel, but he also pointed out that Shelby County can’t be overlooked.
“Shelby County is without a doubt one of the top teams in the state,” he said. “We must try to find a way to contain AJ Slaughter and combat there giant size advantage. “South Laurel is the returning champs and until someone knocks them off they remain the champion,” he added.
Shelby County coach Michael Clark agreed with Bottoms’ sentiments.
“We are one of several teams that have a legitimate chance at winning the tournament,” he said. “South Laurel is obviously a team to beat since they have tournament experience. There are several teams this year that could make a deep run in the tournament.”
One team that would like to get another chance at South Laurel is Tim Riley’s Warren Central Dragons. The Dragons are making their fifth consecutive appearance to the Sweet Sixteen and lost to the Cardinals in the finals last season.
“This year will make the fifth straight year we have made it,” Riley said. “That itself is a record in the 4th Region. This means a lot to Warren Central and there are a lot of people that has been a part of the success during this run.”
“I think this year is wide open,” he added. “We just want to continue to play well and represent the 4th Region as well as possible.”
One team that could be labeled as the Sweet Sixteen Cinderella could be Graves County (27-5). If South Laurel can get past John Hardin in the first round and Lyndon Dunningıs team can get past Russell, the two teams would meet on Friday in the quarterfinals.
“South Laurel has got to be a team everyone looks at as they are the defending state champion and they are just as talented this year,” he said. “Any of the teams coming out sixth, seventh, and 11th Regions are always a threat due to the toughness of their schedules. Be aware of John Hardin, Warren Central, Boyle, and Covington Catholic. This is a very deep and talented field and don't be surprised who gets to the finals.”
Wright said his team is focused with their main concern being getting out of the first round.
“If we come out and play well, we have a chance to win the first round game and that is what we are focused on right now,” he said. “There are really two teams that have a chance to win this thing and that’s the two teams that win on Saturday morning. Hopefully we can put ourselves in that position and if we do we’ll see what happens.”