On March 12, 2016, the Murray Lady Tigers — a 29-game winning streak on the line — fought valiantly in the KHSAA Sweet 16 semifinals against the Butler Bearettes in Highland Heights, but eventually fell 68-58 to finish with a 35-2 record.
In those final precious moments, no one was thinking about the future. A berth to the state championship game was on the line.
For coach Rechelle Turner, assistants Monica Evans and Amber Guffey, and players in Macey Turley, Alexis Burpo, Maddie Waldrop, Lex Mayes, Lily Ramey, Brittany Lawson and Morghen Turley, it was the end of an unprecedented run — and one of the finer stretches of First Region girls basketball history.
In any other year, the story ends there. Turner and her staff wave goodbye to seniors. Tears fall. Friends embrace. The off-season begins.
But five years later, the bulk of this bunch now find themselves in the woven blanket of women’s basketball in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“It was God’s plan,” Turner said. “For sure.”
Following the 2016-17 season, one that saw her Lady Tigers top Butler before falling to Mercer County in the Final Four, Turner was announced as Murray State’s next coach — naturally bringing along Evans and Guffey, a Racer Hall of Famer now, for her staff.
Turley, Burpo and Mayes committed to Murray State together, a year after Waldrop had verbally committed to Kevin McMillan and UT Martin.
Lawson, after a season with the Asbury Eagles women’s soccer program, returned home — and has been a long-trusted member of the Racer women’s basketball student manager staff.
And now, Turley, Burpo and Waldrop make up a familiar trio on the 2020-21 preseason All-OVC Team, after posting sublime seasons in 2019-20. The Racers scrapped into the postseason behind Herculean efforts from Turley and Burpo, while the Waldrop and the Skyhawks stayed on top of the league.
Memories of this 2015-17 stretch stay fresh, however, because time — and a rivalry — doesn’t unwind the bond.
“It’s really neat,” said Waldrop, now a senior. “Morghen Turley just got married. Macey is dominating at Murray State and in the OVC. Alexis, same thing. I talk to Brittany every day, and she’s doing well. And coach (Rechelle) Turner is still getting on to people, just like she did with me back in the day. It’s awesome to see everyone succeeding and still supporting each other. I keep in touch with Monica still. It’s cool to see everyone’s best interests at heart, even though we’re at rival schools.”
As far as production is concerned, Mayes isn’t far behind this group, either, after averaging 10.1 points on 38.5% shooting through 30 games a year ago — tying for the team lead in 3-point makes (53) with Turley — and Turner believes she’ll be in the mix among the conference’s best this season, particularly with more help (and potentially less pressure) around her.
And that’s the thing. Instead of sitting in her old office on Doran Road, one she held for two decades, drawing up plans against the First Region, she’s instead working on the continued growth of the Murray State women’s basketball program.
Sometimes, it’s funny where life leads.
“I had never really thought about the college game much,” Turner added. “I was so locked in to building and keeping our program at Murray High School to where it was. But I think it’s evident why I have this job. It has nothing to do with my coaching. Look at all the talent that I had to work with. Good players make good coaches. That’s the bottom line. I believe that.
“But I have three players who played in that last era of mine that are on All-OVC preseason polls at Division I programs. All three have had outstanding careers. And then you throw in Lex (Mayes), that plays for us also, that’s been a big part of what we’re doing. And she’ll continue to play a big part, and I think she’ll have a breakout year this season. And we’re even able to have Brittany Lawson and Mallory Stone (a former Lady Tiger) as managers.
“It is all about family here, and I’m so appreciative of what all the players did for me over the years. It’s because of them and all the coaches and administration that I had lead me, that has allowed me to be blessed and have this job.”
Follow Marlowe on Twitter @dreamarlowe85, call him (270) 575-8661, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.