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McCracken clear favorite in region

By Mike Stunson mstunson@paducahsun.com

It's been five years since McCracken County - and Lone Oak before its formation - has lost a game to a Region 1 opponent.

Beating the Lady Mustangs was already a daunting task for the fellow schools in the area, but it may be even tougher this year with McCracken bringing back nearly its whole team.

Not only did McCracken sweep the region last year, but it also didn't drop a single set in doing so. All but one starter returns to that team, once again giving the Lady Mustangs the upper hand in Region 1.

McCracken will be led by Louisville commit Jasmine Bennett and setter Hannah Parker - both seniors. Bennett has over 1,300 kills in her illustrious career and could potentially reach 1,800 this year.

"She played a big role (at Lone Oak) as a sophomore, but she played a major role (at McCracken) last year," Lady Mustangs head coach Tim Whitis said. "This year, the team will look to her and Hannah to kind of lead the team. Jasmine is a big block in front and is hard for the other girls to block."

At 6-foot-2 with an athletic build, Bennett has proved to be the best player in the region and potentially one of the best in the state.

As Whitis' teams normally do, the Lady Mustangs will play only six matches against regional opponents this season, instead playing in a bevy of tournaments in not only Kentucky, but Ohio and Illinois as well.

Whitis said it's going to be key for his team to show up at these tournaments with the mentality to win, rather than just play.

"Sometimes you can go to these tournaments and just play, feeling like they don't mean anything," he said. "We have to start thinking that they matter so that when we get to the regional and, hopefully, state tournament we have that winning mentality."

This year's All "A" Classic could tell a lot about who the top competitor to McCracken will be. Last year it was Community Christian, sweeping all six matches of the region All "A" to advance to state.

At state, the Lady Warriors went 3-2, and with them having only graduated three players, they will likely be one of the favorites to get back to state at the All "A."

Ballard Memorial, Fulton City and Murray all won at least 20 matches a year ago, giving the region a lot of depth at the top.

Over in the Second Region, Caldwell County and Henderson County will be the favorites as they seem to be year by year, but another local team could pose a threat.

Livingston Central will have nine seniors on a team that went 22-11 a year ago. Kenzie Dean and Tiffany Padon are both three-year starters who will look to lead Livingston into the elite level of Region 2.

"I think we have a real good shot at winning region or being right up there," head coach Melissa Dean said. "Being together such a long time, we are used to one another. We've been together for five or six years now."

Caldwell has had Livingston's number in the past, and it will have four seniors and three starters return from last year's team that went 25-14.

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