(Cover photo L to R: Sacred Heart’s incoming freshmen Erin Toller, Kristen Clemons, and Destinee Marshall. Credit: Michael Moore)
We’re still about five months away from the first games of the high school basketball season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited mid-summer about the local talent that will be moving up from middle school to the high school level. For some of the athletes, the transition will be flawless; for others, it will take time getting accustomed to the new style, speed, and physicality of the competition.
Nonetheless, the young ladies highlighted below represent some of the best middle school talent advancing up. All are rising ninth graders (class of 2020) and have been getting varsity experience with their high school’s summer league teams, including action at the Mercy/Teleperformance Showcase June 13-15 and the University of Louisville women’s basketball Elit Camps held between June 11 and June 22.
Over the course of the upcoming season, the Louisville-area will become familiar with their names and faces.
Shelby Calhoun, Christian Academy of Louisville
Calhoun has started for CAL’s varsity basketball team since the seventh grade. Last season, the Centurions went 18-12, fairing okay in the Seventh Region. But anyone will tell you there’s something special about that Calhoun girl. She was the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 13.5 points only behind junior guard Emma Wesley. Calhoun was also second on the team in rebounding (6.8 per game).
With the option to transfer to a larger, more basketball-dominated school in Louisville, Calhoun decided to stay at CAL.
“I think the most important thing is academics and I know that CAL is really good at getting you on track with your school.”
In addition, Calhoun enjoys the friendships she’s made at CAL, “but also, I really like the coaching staff and I just felt like that was a perfect fit for me there.”
That coaching staff is led by head coach Perry White, Sr. He plans for his ninth grader to step up – vocally – more this year. And Calhoun, who for the past two seasons has typically been quiet on the court, agrees.
“I want to be more of a leader,” she said… [this] should be a good time to do that.”
Aside from basketball, Calhoun is pretty excited to officially start high school.
I’m looking forward to more opportunities,” she said. “I’m looking forward to just being able to have fun and do good in school ’cause that’s the most important thing. But I’m really excited for ninth grade ’cause you get more freedom to do stuff.”
Olivia Lawson, Meyzeek Middle, Christian Academy of Louisville
Lawson came from Meyzeek averaging 21.4 points per game and hitting 87.8% of her free throws for a team that went 20-3.
“She was a three-year starter, captain for two years, and true leader on the court in every sense of the word,” shared Meyzeek girls’ basketball head coach Katherine Southerland via email. “Olivia is one of those players that coaches are lucky to get to coach once in a lifetime.”
Now, the transition is prepping Lawson.
“Yeah, it’s a really big difference,” said Lawson on middle school versus high school basketball. “The competition. The intensity is a lot faster. The girls know a lot more.”
Lawson discussed the style of play and the physical build of the older girls as being major parts of the adjustment for her. But her summer varsity experience with CAL is setting her up for a good freshman season.
“She will definitely be an integral part of our varsity team this season,” proclaimed White via email.
Lawson decided to attend CAL after speaking with White. She knew a few of the girls on the team, as well as a couple of girls who play soccer for CAL. Lawson is currently balancing basketball workouts with club soccer. On the court, she is a pretty balanced player, having solid offensive and defensive skills. She’ll be working on her passing throughout the summer, and her main goal for the upcoming season is “just getting better as an individual to help my team get better.”
On her ninth grade year as a whole, Lawson is looking forward to “meeting all the new people and just high school itself.”
And for Coach White, he has extra anticipation for Lawson joining his roster.
“I will also have another incoming freshman, Mia Beam (attended CAL last year, got some varsity experience), that will be a huge part of team as well. Along with Shelby, I believe our future is in good hands!”
Erin Toller, JCTMS, Sacred Heart Academy
JCTMS is looking for a three-peat this upcoming season – an attempt to win the Junior LIT for the third season in a row.
But they’ll have to do it without the talent of Erin Toller.
Toller was instrumental in leading a team that went 19-0 last season (including Queen of the Bluegrass tournament games). They currently hold a 34-0 JCPS record.
“Her leadership, speech, dominant scoring spurts…ability to just put the team on her back/shoulders and lead,” said JCTMS girls’ basketball head coach Michael Moore on Toller. “Definitely has the drive and attitude when games are close of ‘refusing to lose.'”
It was a fourth-quarter rally led by Toller’s 11 points that gave her squad the 45-41 victory over Crosby for the LIT title on February 13. She scored 22 that game.
This upcoming season, she’ll look to bring that same energy to Sacred Heart. Her desire is “to build the chemistry together with my teammates and just working a lot on my weaknesses.”
Like the others on this list, Toller has see some summertime varsity action with her new school’s basketball team. Although she hasn’t received a definitive word on whether or not she’ll make varsity this season, she’s still been racking a lot of minutes to get the experience. The change in tempo has been the most noticeable difference from middle school ball.
“It’s just really fast,” Toller said.
She discussed the adjustment in playing against girls who are right around the corner from college. And even though Toller herself is a pretty quick player, the speed of the older girls is what she’s getting used to.
On deciding to attend Sacred Heart, Toller’s parents helped her make that decision, but it was the atmosphere of the school that sold her.
On her freshman year of high school, overall, Toller admitted some nervousness, “but I know that when I get in there, I know I’ll have friends. I’ll have people to talk to.”
Destinee Marshall, Crosby Middle, Sacred Heart Academy
She’s quick. She’s fiesty. She’s fiery. And Sacred Heart is scoreingbig with another top commit in Destinee Marshall.
Marshall led Crosby to a 15-2 season, making it to the LIT City Championship game against JCTMS. They were undefeated in regular season and district play.
“Destinee was instrumental in all of those accomplishments,” Crosby head coach Jeff Sehlinger shared via email. “She is an exceptional talent, but she always put the team first.”
“I have three goals,” said Marshall on the upcoming season. “Getting stronger, getting faster, and just having fun.”
Marshall wants to be a factor on the court, “not thinking about myself, but thinking about my teammates; helping them raise their level…smiling, laughing and then playing your game.”
Marshall’s small frame masks her strength and speed for unassuming opponents. Her strength and agility is what she’ll continue building during this offseason. Playing against bigger girls so far this summer with AAU and varsity experience has actually served as motivation.
“And specifically ball handling,” she added. “I’ve got to go that much harder for high school against bigger girls.”
Marshall said she considered what would be the best fit for her when weighing her options for high school. She liked the positive atmosphere at Sacred Heart, as well as the caliber of academics and how focused the students seem to be there.
“It’s just a better environment for me, and I think I will succeed there,” she said.
As talented as Marshall is on the court, she’s actually looking forward to exploring more than just basketball.
“I’m trying to get more involved with school,” she said, “different programs, because I want to be a veterinarian.” Her favorite animal is snake. She actually used to own a ball named Harlem. “Basketball is just another opportunity, but I really want to be a veterinarian.”
Lexi Taylor, Mount Washington Middle, Bullitt East High
Lexi Taylor rounds out the list of the area’s budding freshman talents. Like Toller and Marshall, she’ll also find out if she’ll be bumped up to Bullitt East’s varsity team as a freshman.
Nonetheless, the shooting guard has gotten some great experience playing JV last year and competing against varsity-level talent throughout the summer.
On the transition from middle school to high school ball, Taylor said, “Well, it’s way more competitive in high school, and you have to always play to the best of your ability ’cause there’s always gonna be good players. They’re not just gonna hand it to you.”
In preparation for the upcoming season, Taylor is primarily focused on her ball handling and speed on defense.
“I just wanna get better and I want to grow as a player and get more experience… I just really want that to progress a lot more.”
Taylor is a solid rebounder who can also drive to the rim. At Bullitt East, she’ll look to bring those strengths, as well as her shooting ability. The Kentucky Premier AAU player is also looking forward to playing against greater competition to gain more experience. She’s certainly not shy about stating that.
Outside of basketball, the freshman wants “to have good academics, good grades, and just be a lot more social.”
Honorable Mention: Kristen Clemons of Holy Trinity Parish School is a rising freshman who will play for Sacred Heart Academy next year. Alana Striverson is a rising eighth grader at JCTMS who has played with Male High’s varsity team this summer and will soon make the decision to either play for JCTMS or Male.