It’s common for Boyd County’s prized sophomore guard to stay in the gym after practice. Savannah Wheeler approaches extra work at her own pace.
“She tries to go game speed,” Lady Lions coach Pete Fraley said. “It gets her in the moment.”
The afternoon following the draw for the 16th Region Tournament, Fraley had a shootaround for his team.
It got to be 7 o’clock, he recalled, and players were told they could leave.
Naturally, Wheeler wasn’t ready to go.
“She said, ‘I need a rebounder’ because she wasn’t finished shooting,” Fraley said. “Savannah was so focused on what was ahead, what she wanted to do.”
Then he added, “It carried over to our entire team.”
Boyd County blew past Lewis County and Fleming County in the first two rounds, setting up a showdown with East Carter for the championship at Morehead State University. Boyd County won a 66-63 classic as the teams combined for a record 21 three-pointers in 34 attempts.
Wheeler, the tournament’s MVP, connected for a key triple in the fourth quarter when the Lady Lions went ahead to stay.
“She really improved her 3-point shooting,” Fraley said. “Savannah had an amazing sophomore season. It’s been coming for years. She gets better in the offseason playing AAU. She doesn’t rest.”
When her West Virginia Thunder AAU team wrapped up play last July, Fraley wanted Wheeler to have a break. He made her stay out of the gym for a while.
“It wasn’t easy,” the coach said. “She works her tail off year-round to be the best player she can possibly be.”
The Marshall University commit is the 2016-17 All-Area Player of the Year, as selected by The Daily Independent’s sports staff.
“It’s an honor to get Player of the Year and being Most Valuable Player of the region tournament,” Wheeler said. “I feel like all the work I’m putting in is paying off.”
Also recently, Wheeler was named to the All Tri-State first team. She averaged 21.7 points and became the Lady Lions’ No. 2 all-time scorer with two seasons still remaining.
Fraley describes Wheeler as fearless.
“Savannah’s tough as nails and not afraid to fail,” he said. “She doesn’t like to fail, not at all, but she’s not going to back down from any challenge.”
An injury to teammate Houston Reeves left Wheeler as Boyd County’s full-time point guard for the second half of the season.
Asked if Wheeler is really 5-foot-6, as listed on Boyd County’s roster, Fraley smiled and said “if we stretch her.”
Make it 5-5 1/2, according to the dynamic player. Despite a lack of size, Wheeler has honed her ability to drive and score or pitch the ball out to an open teammate behind the 3-point line. She made 81.7 percent of her free throws on 251 attempts and also led the Lady Lions with 87 treys.
“It was my best season so far,” Wheeler said. “I accomplished a lot of things and hope to do the same the next two or three years. I’m still working on my 3-point range to make it deeper.”
As Wheeler dribbles, she reads opponents and attacks accordingly.
“I just want to keep getting better, improve areas like step-backs and pull-ups,” she said.
Fraley and Paintsville’s Les Trimble share All-Area coaching honors after guiding their teams to the state tournament at Northern Kentucky University.
Fraley knows how difficult it is to win a region title. The third one came in his 21st season leading the Lady Lions program.
“People don’t realize,” Fraley said. “You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to be lucky, too. You have to get a break here and there. I’m blessed that I had really good players and a good coaching staff. It came together. It was everybody working together.”
Boyd County’s most difficult schedule of the Fraley era prepared the Lady Lions for the postseason. Down the stretch, they avenged losses to eventual West Virginia state champions Huntington High (Class AAA) and Huntington St. Joe (Class A).
In the region final, Boyd County withstood a veteran East Carter team that shot 11 of 15 from beyond arc and also posted 11 more rebounds. Boyd County was 10 of 19 from long range and Charity Shears made two clutch free throws late.
“We played well and East Carter played well,” Fraley said. “We came out with one more basket than they did. It could just have easily been the other way around. I felt all along we were one of the best teams. It was a matter of proving it on that night.”
At the state tournament, Boyd County trailed by one at halftime against a loaded Mercer County team that went on to win it all.
Charity Shears also represented the Lady Lions on the All-Area team, based on coaches’ voting. Shears came on strong in the second half of the season.
“I’m happy for Savannah and Charity,” Fraley said at the All-Area photo shoot. “At the same time, we could have had some other kids sitting here, too.”
Boyd County’s other three starters — seniors Hunter Reeves and Alexis Lunsford, along with junior Payton Shears — were honorable mention.
“We had a total team effort,” said Fraley, also noting senior McKenna Adkins’ key contributions in the post. “It wasn’t just about one or two.”
(606) 326-2671 |
Player (School) Grade
Hannah Bear (W. Carter) 10
Bailee Brainard (E. Carter) 12
Allyson Callahan (Rowan Co.) 12
Presley Chirico (Paintsville) 11
Madison Darnell (Russell) 11
Drew Evans (Menifee Co.) 12
Emma Hacker (Menifee Co.) 10
Haley Hall (E. Carter) 12
Mackenzie Humphrey (Fairview) 12
Maggie Jachimczuk (Russell) 12
Ali May (J. Central) 12
Kristen Mayo (E. Carter) 12
McKenna Moore (Bath Co.) 10
Julia Parker (Ashland) 9
Abby Pick (Lewis Co.) 11
Abby Ross (Morgan Co.) 11
Lauren Runyon (Raceland) 11
Charity Shears (Boyd Co.) 11
Journey Steward (Fleming Co.) 12
Savannah Wheeler (Boyd Co.) 10
Elizabeth Williams (Paintsville) 10
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Savannah Wheeler (Boyd Co.)
CO-COACHES OF THE YEAR
Pete Fraley (Boyd Co.)
Les Trimble (Paintsville)
ASHLAND — Sarah Rymer. BOYD COUNTY — Alexis Lunsford, Hunter Reeves, Payton Shears. EAST CARTER — Harley Paynter. ELLIOTT COUNTY — Abby Adkins. FLEMING COUNTY — Morgan Fern, Tori Ishmael. GREENUP COUNTY — Gracie Haywood, Maggie Miller, Haley Valandingham. JOHNSON CENTRAL — Lauryn Salyer. LAWRENCE COUNTY — Alexis Ratliff. LEWIS COUNTY — Gracie Yates. PAINTSVILLE — Eleanora Lanzani. ROSE HILL — Sarah Sizemore. RUSSELL — Ty Mitchell. WEST CARTER — Kallie Burchett, Allie Stone.
To read the story in its entirity, please click on the link: All-Area Girls' Basketball Team