Marshall County's dominance in the First Region Tournament goes well beyond the past three championships it has won.
So when the Lady Marshals face Perry County Central at noon today in the Sweet 16 at E.A. Diddle Arena at Western Kentucky University, it will mark their 22nd appearance in the state event.
Marshall County (30-5) advanced to the Sweet 16 every year from 1981 to 1991, also in 1994, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009 and from 2012 to this season, and it speaks of the expectations placed upon those who put on the orange and blue.
"This is my fourth year here and our third year in a row to go so that's pretty special for these group of kids," Lady Marshals coach Joseph Simmons said. "My first year was the first year for my two seniors, Allie York and Toni Fehrenbacher, so they're really special to me because we've been through everything together.
"But when you go to Marshall County, play at Marshall County or coach at Marshall County, one thing you know is you're held to a higher standard. They expect you to win championships, or at least compete for them. When you're put in those positions you're giving yourself a chance and the girls have always been able to step up to the challenge and take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to them.
"It's very easy to coach here, because all you have to do is point up to the banners and they want to be able to put another banner up from the team they played on. So it's a very special feeling and I'm blessed to be the head coach here, because of the established tradition, and it's something we want to maintain."
Marshall County earned its spot in the Sweet 16 after topping Murray 54-44 in the Girls First Region Championship on Monday night. The victory extended the Lady Marshals' winning streak to 10 games, the longest of the season.
The key to Marshall County's success has been balance. Junior forward Alyssa Barnard leads the team in scoring at 12 points a game (and in rebounding with 7.9 rebounds a game). But right behind her is York and her 11.5 ppg average â “ she's second on the team in rebounding with 7.3 rpg â “ and the 11.3 ppg junior guard Bailey Greer averages. Then throw in the 7.2 ppg First Region MVP and wild card Michaela Manley puts in, the 5.7 ppg freshman center Hannah Langhi scores and the 4.9 ppg Fehrenbacher adds, and it's easy to see the Lady Marshals could have anyone lead them in scoring on a given night.
"One of my weaknesses is I'm not big on having a superstar. I'm big on team," Simmons said. "I think any good defense can take away one good player. So we want to make sure we have a balanced team, because night in and night out and over the course of a long regular season there's going to be some ups and downs for people. You're not going to have your best game every night so people are going to be able to have to step up and that's why we try to put people in position to be successful."
Perry County Central (23-6), which won the 54th District over Leslie County 76-57 and 14th Region championship over Powell County 59-54, is making its ninth appearance in the Sweet 16 and first since 2012. The Lady Commodores are led by senior forward Kayla Rankin (28.4 ppg, 14.5 rpg) and senior guard Lyndci Combs (9.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg).
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.
Girls Sweet 16
at E.A. Diddle Arena, Bowling Green
Marshall Co. vs. Perry Co. Central, noon
Corbin vs. George Rogers Clark, 1:30 p.m.
Elizabethtown vs. Sacred Heart, 6:30 p.m.
Anderson Co. vs. Meade Co., 8 p.m.
Marshall County Road to State
Fourth District Tournament
Calloway County 65-51 (W), Semifinals
Murray 44-24, District Championship
First Region Tournament at Murray State
Ballard Memorial 57-26, 1st Round
Paducah Tilghman 59-53, Semifinals
Murray 54-44, Championship