Steele, Davis earn KABC awards: Biggs, Hargett, Chandler receive honors in boys basketball

Feb. 25—The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches released its coaches and players of the year from each region on Friday.

The players who received the honor will also be the candidates for the Mr. and Miss Kentucky award next month. Seniors are the only individuals who are eligible for this recognition by the KABC.

Russell's Shaelyn Steele was named the 16th Region Player of the Year. The Penn State signee averages 21.8 points and 6.1 rebounds a game and has helped guide the Red Devils to a 23-6 record. Russell enters the 63rd District Tournament this week, winning 13 of its last 15 games.

Coach Mandy Layne said the spotlight has been on her guard from an early age, but the senior is at her best when the bright lights are on.

"She's always so calm and cool," Layne said. "She never talks about it. When she plays, she keeps her composure and her poise. She always plays within herself."

Steele became the only Red Devils player, boys or girls, to reach 3,000 career points this season and collected her 1,000th rebound.

Layne feels she can impact the game without scoring a point. Steele's assist and steal numbers have increased and remains a positive role model for her team and girls basketball.

"Her assist numbers have gone up," Layne said. "She's done a great job trusting her teammates and wants to get them involved. I feel like they have all thrived this year."

"I really feel like she's elevated the level of basketball in the 16th Region," she added. "She's been a role model for all the younger kids and showed you can achieve a goal of playing in a Power 5 conference. She's leaving a lasting legacy here at Russell. She will go down as the best player to ever play here. To have her in my program, it's been a great experience for all of us."

Ashland coach Stacy Davis took the Kittens back to the state tournament in her first season at the helm in 2023. The second-year coach has her team primed to make a return trip next month after Ashland posted 24 wins against a tough schedule this year.

Davis was named KABC 16th Region Coach of the Year by her colleagues. The effort to repeat as region champs can be just as daunting as winning the first one.

"It's been a different experience," Davis said. "We've had that pressure on our backs. The girls have known that and so have the coaches. Last year we came in and it was our first season. You are expected to win at Ashland because it's Ashland. We weren't favored last year and we weren't in the talks to win it. This year we are up there with Boyd County and Russell. We've taken a different approach in practice with concentration, knowing that we have to get better on the little things each day to get back (to the state tournament) again."

Davis knows the expectations at Ashland. She is a 1992 graduate and former Kittens player. Davis played in two Sweet Sixteens and hopes to achieve that feat as a coach.

Ashland has experienced late-season adversity. Leading scorer Kenleigh Woods has missed the last eight games with a knee injury but is hopeful for a postseason return.

The Kittens won six of those games behind experience and senior leadership from Jaidyn Gulley and Ella Sellars. The stretch included a victory over No. 2 George Rogers Clark on Thursday.

"It was a big loss and you have to adjust a lot," Davis said. "Jaidyn Gulley can play all five positions. She could run point guard at any school around here. She has matured big time and stepped into the role the last couple of weeks with Kenleigh out. Kenleigh is a score-first point guard and Jaidyn is a pass-first point guard. It changes how we have to run our offense."

Fleming County swept 16th Region recognitions on the boys side. Buddy Biggs led the Panthers to a 22-8 record with a veteran team. He was named the 16th Region Coach of the Year.

Fleming County holds a 12-1 region record, including wins over Ashland and Boyd County this month. The Panthers advance to the Kentucky 2A state championship on Jan. 15.

Adam Hargett received Player of the Year honors. The senior posted 17.6 points a game and hit 40% of his 3-point shots.

Lawrence County's Chandler Thompson was named the 15th Region Coach of the Year. The Bulldogs are 22-6 this season and begin the 58th District Tournament on Tuesday as the No. 1 seed.

"I am honored and blessed to have my name mentioned alongside the really good coaches on that list," Thompson said. "I truly feel like this team would make any coach look good. It is not about me at all. Our kids and assistant coaches deserve all the credit in the world. I have been blessed with a great group and I am thankful to be their coach."

"This has been a special team and the one thing that has allowed them to be successful is their desire and willingness to win," he added. "This is a very competitive group that will do anything they can to win. That's about all you can ask for as a coach. That mentality has made it a fun year so far and hopefully, we can continue that moving forward."

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