By LARRY VAUGHT
The first time Seygan Robbins saw this season’s Mercer County schedule, she admits it was a bit scary.
“We were a little nervous about the schedule at first but now we know we can play with anybody,” she said.
That’s because going into tonight’s game at Garrard County, Mercer is 16-5 and unbeaten against 12th Region foes. Even with five losses the Titans are ranked as high as No. 2 in the state. They have played against two McDonald’s All-American players, eight players headed to play Division I basketball and five teams ranked in the top 25 of at least one national poll. The five losses have come against teams ranked No. 6, 11 and 21 in the nation along with the No. 1 team in Kentucky (Butler) and the No. 2 team in Missouri (they have also beaten two nationally ranked teams). They have lost three games on the final possession.
Robbins admits an 80-55 loss at Butler two weeks ago was an eye-opener for a team that believes it can win a state championship.
“We talk about it (winning state) pretty often. Coach (Chris) Souder reminds us what we are ultimately working for. I think we definitely believe we can do it. It is not just a hope,” Robbins, a junior who has verbally committed to Louisville, said. “I think that loss made us realize we have to bring it every night. Playing at their place, we came out a little rattled and I don’t know why. Everybody was just off that night.
“But the schedule will help us in the end. We have lost buzzer beaters. We have been in tight situations. If we are in one in region or state, we will be more composed than most teams because of the teams we have played.”
Normally teams are a bit discombobulated when they play Mercer. And there’s a good reason for that.
Robbins is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,857 points. Lyric Houston, the only senior among the top six players, has scored 1,459 points — second most in school history and likely will play college softball. Juniors Faith Lake (957 points), Emma Davis (805) and Lexy Lake (771) have all verbally committed to Southeast Missouri State. Junior Emmy Souder has 713 career points and Division I offers, too.
When the season ends, the team will have at least three 1,000-point scorers. The team has at least eight more games. If it wins the 12th Region for the third straight year, it will play at least 13 more games. So if Davis or Lexy Lake got on a scoring roll, one might reach 1,000. But by the end of next season all five juniors will be over 1,000 points barring injury.
This is a team that understands the better the team is, the better each player looks. Sacrificing shots has not cost anyone college attention. Davis comes off the bench. What other girls high school team in Kentucky has a Division I commit coming off the bench — and not complaining about it?
What makes this story even better is that the the players have been playing together since grade school.
“I would say we are pretty close. We pretty much do everything together,” Robbins said. “There is no doubt in my mind that all six of us will have 1,000 points by the time everyone graduates. We just understand that all of us are equally talented and how good we can be when we distribute the ball among everybody.”
When the current juniors were eighth-grader players, Mercer lost in the 12th Region title game. Several of them played in that game. Now they are on track to possibly win four straight regional titles.
“I think the first time we thought about it seriously was eighth-grade year and some of us were getting varsity minutes. We lost in championship game but then we knew what we could do,” she said. “We always have a target on our back now in the region. We know every team brings its best. But that’s okay.”
The players seldom talk about Division I basketball except in the summer when recruiting is more constant. Robbins says she has stayed in touch with coaches she became friends with before committing to Louisville, but she is still “all in” with the Cardinals.
“It has been pretty exciting for me this year. After committing to Louisville, I have felt a little more pressure,” Robbins said. “But it has been fun going to Arizona and Missouri (for national showcase tournaments) and playing nationally ranked competition.
“I have worked a lot on my 3-point shooting this year because I was not that good until this year. I do a lot of individual workouts with (assistant) coach (Josh) Hamlin. I’ve got to work more on my ball handling, but I have got better with my right hand. At the next level, you need to be equally good with your off hand.”
For this team, though, equally good is a phrase that every player — even senior coming off the bench in limited roles — understand. They average 72 points per game — second best in the state — and play a fun style of fast, unselfish basketball knowing that if they win, there’s plenty of credit for everyone.
“All of us just want to win. If we do that, then we are all happy no matter what,” Robbins said.