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Mainly cloudy. Low 39F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: November 28, 2022 @ 9:13 pm
At the cover shoot for The Daily Independent’s 48th annual basketball preview, Kensley Feltner had just one number in mind.
It had nothing to do with the thousands of points she has posted in a Lawrence County uniform. The school’s all-time leading scorer focused on a much smaller numeral.
The thoughts of winning a region championship consumed her during the offseason. It was at the epicenter of her motivation and preparation, especially after the Bulldogs came so close to reaching their goal last year.
Lawrence County played in its first region tournament final since 1983, but fell to Pikeville by three points in overtime. Feltner and her team feel ready to take one more step forward and win their first title.
“Losing is just hard,” Feltner said. “I’m very competitive. I hate losing, especially when you were right there and so close. It has really lit a fire into us. We want to get back there, but it will be even harder to get there this year. We want to take it and have it as ours.
“It’s why we’re playing such a hard schedule,” she added. “We want to be relentless in trying to get a championship. We want to be the first to cut those nets down.”
Feltner played scrimmage games with the Lawrence County boys team this fall. A former region champ joined the fray one day and the senior began to envision her plans to make her own mark on history.
“Timmy Dalton walked into the gym to play with us,” Feltner said. “He could look up and see the boys region banner they won in 2016. I want to be able to come back to the school one day and look up at our banner and say that I was on the first team.”
Rowan County has won nine region championships, but none since 2010, which is eight seasons before Haven Ford began her tenure in Morehead.
The versatile guard has her eyes on the prize in her final high school season too. Ford also spends all her free time in the gym, constantly critiquing her game, even with her overwhelming talent and success.
“I’m in the gym,” Ford said. “Even when I come back from a tournament or a game, I always feel like there’s somewhere in my game where I have to improve. The next day in the gym, I’m concentrating on that, and I will try to fix that. I still feel I have a lot to improve on.”
Vikings coach Matt Stokes said Ford remains equally humble and hungry – a player that goes above and beyond to support and push her teammates every day.
“She’s always been one of the best players on the floor,” Stokes said. “When everybody saw her working as hard as she does, and she still comes in late at night after a three-hour practice to get up 1,000 shots, it shows them that if she is doing that, then I need to do it. … She has gotten more girls into the gym and shooting on their own these last two years than we’ve ever had before.”
Point By Point
Feltner and Ford sit atop the scoring charts at their respective schools. Feltner has tallied 3,150 career points, according to KHSAA statistics, and if she duplicates her output from last season, the senior will become just the fourth player in state history to reach 4,000.
“I’ve always had a knack for scoring and a knack to get to the rim,” Feltner said. “I feel that’s what really set me apart. Through the years, I’ve become a three-level scorer. I also want to shoot off the dribble and shoot outside. Last year, I shot 22.6% from the 3-point line and that’s obviously terrible. I’ve been working nonstop all summer to make my game more versatile.”
Feltner’s mother, Melinda, has had a front-row seat to watch her daughter’s progression. Melinda Feltner has also been her coach since the first day Kensley graced the varsity roster.
“It was tough early on, “Melinda Feltner said, “but to see her grow into the player that she is now, it’s really been fun to watch. She’s always had that competitive spirit and always been a dog on the floor, as we call it. She wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything without the ladies that she plays with, and she knows that.”
Ford has accumulated 2,460 points. The senior feels her scoring ability comes from her retention after research. Ford became a student of the game and studies it every chance she gets.
“I think a great scorer comes from reading your defense,” Ford said, “as well always taking what they give you. Even with a one-on-one defender, you just have to attack their weaknesses. It’s what I try to do each time. I have a good defender on me most of the time.
“I believe my sports IQ is my best quality besides scoring,” she added. “I love watching the game as well as playing. With college basketball starting, I love sitting down and breaking down games while I watch TV. I’m watching what offenses they are running and how the players get themselves open. I’m trying to put it in my game.”
Feltner takes pride in her acumen on the basketball court. The guard wants to improve her defense as well as her shooting range. Kensley Feltner said she and her mom/coach have such a great relationship that she already knows what Melinda is thinking and can quickly organize the team during a game.
It’s also helped her get the free throw line. Feltner made more shots from the charity stripe than the next player on the state list attempted.
“An and-1 and a charge are the two biggest things on the court that give a team momentum,” Kensley Feltner said. “Free throws are just extra points. They’re called free throws for a reason. That’s what my dad always said. Last year, I was at 72% and I want to get to 78 or higher this year.”
Never Too Early
It only took a few moments for Stokes to get a glimpse of who would guide his program for the next five seasons. Rowan County traveled to Ashland during the 2017-18 season and fell behind early.
Stokes was only an interim coach at the time and decided to give Ford, a seventh-grader, the green light.
“I brought her over and I said, shoot it every time you come down the floor,” Stokes recalled. “We were down 20 and all she did was hit four straight 3s. With the confidence I had in her going into her eighth-grade year, I knew she could do this stuff throughout her career. She’s been a leader since eighth grade. It has made it easier for me as a head coach. She’s been a captain since then. The players vote for that.”
Stokes said Ford’s passing ability stands out more than her prowess for putting the ball in the hoop. Ford believes her leadership style has changed over the years.
“I’m still working with the vocal side of leadership,” Ford said. “It’s really important as a point guard to vocalize your concerns. I think I’ve come a long way since my eighth-grade year. As a vocal leader, I’m trying to do what is needed each game and in practice. There’s a lot that goes into leadership.”
Kensley Feltner had more family around her during her early years. Her cousin, Lexi Ratliff, provided an early role model while she was in middle school. After learning from her, she was prepared to take the reins as a freshman.
“Lexi was the leader of our team,” Kensley Feltner said. “It helped me a lot as a younger player. It was hard at that time to take on the role at a young age. During my freshman year, Lexi was a senior, and we took the role hand in hand. It impacted my game and it’s helped with my leadership roles today.”
Feltner and Ford have both led their teams in scoring since eighth grade.
Melinda Feltner said her star player has handled the brighter spotlight well. She wants her to enjoy every opportunity on and off the court.
They try to keep basketball between the lines. Kensley gets the added joy of experiencing her high school career with both parents. Her dad, Travis, is an assistant coach.
Melinda looks forward to future conversations about the cherished six years on the sideline wither daughter.
“After it’s over, we can look back and enjoy it more,” Melinda Feltner said. “We still can enjoy it in the moment. … When she was in the eighth grade, we played against Randy Napier from Perry County Central at a tournament. He said, ‘If I can give you any advice, you leave all that at home and not take that home with you.’ We’ve tried so hard to do that. When we’re here and we’re both coaching, it encompasses it all together.”
Kensley Feltner and Ford remain competitive players on the court and have become friends off of it. The duo plays on the same AAU team, Kentucky Premier.
“We compete really well against each other,” Ford said. “(Kensley) is a great player. She uses her body well and can score anywhere around the basket. We finally got to play together and that was really fun. It’s always a great battle when we play against each other. I know she’s left a legacy at Lawrence County.”
They met in the sectional round of the Kentucky Class 2A Tournament last year. Neither player would give an inch. Both guards scored 31 points, but the Vikings won the game.
They will have many more opportunities to play against one another. Ford signed with Murray State and Feltner is headed to Belmont after this season. Both schools now reside in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“This sport continues to give me so much,” Kensley Feltner said. “Without it, I would never be friends with Haven. It’s really cool. Because of basketball and everything I’ve been blessed with, I will still be able to play against her for four more years.”
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