Injury leads Webster's Duncan to adjust

Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan, The Messenger

Webster County guard Kaylee Duncan dribbles down the Lady Trojans’ home court against Union County on Jan. 6. Webster’s only senior has struggled with a left ankle injury for much of the season.

DIXON -- On the same night that Webster County guard Kaylee Duncan sustained a high ankle sprain that would sideline her for almost three weeks, the Lady Trojans’ only senior took over the huddle before sending her teammates into a second overtime against Boyle County.

“I got in there,” Duncan said, “and was like, ‘Guys you know what a Lady Trojan is, and we’ve got to show it. It’s hard work, and pushing through and never giving up.’ And basically, ‘Just play for yourself, and play for each other, and go out there and do the best you can.’”

Webster County ended up losing that game against Boyle County, 66-64, in double overtime. But Duncan’s speech still stuck out to Lady Trojans coach Brandon Fisher as an example of the force Duncan can be, even on the bench.

“They really were intent on what she was saying and believed in what she said,” Fisher said.

Duncan has been dealing with a left ankle sprain since injuring it in the first 45 seconds of that Dec. 10 game. She averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game in four outings before the injury and 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since spraining her ankle, Duncan has only been relatively unrestricted in three games, with limited playing time in two others. She had to leave Monday’s game against Henderson County in the third quarter when the injury flared up again. Duncan will sit out the next two games, and then a trainer will evaluate her again, Fisher said.

“I’ll be honest, it’s probably one of the worst feelings,” Duncan said. “Because you have a limited number of days left of wearing a Webster County jersey across your chest, and you’re

spending it on the bench.

“You feel like you’re, in a way, hurting your team by not being out there because of this injury, but then again you know that you’re actually kind of helping them because you can’t provide much more right now.”

Duncan has played for Webster since she was in seventh grade, and she joined varsity as an eighth grader.

She entered her senior season with 1,061 career varsity points and her eye on the school rebound record. Now she’s hoping that the timing of her injury won’t hurt her college prospects and she’ll be able to stay healthy through postseason for her team.

“I’ve just got to keep the mindset that it’s more important in February and March than it is right now,” Duncan said.

With her and starting point guard Kelsey Payne (knee) out due to injury, Webster County has been forced to develop a deeper roster as they move further into the season.

But there’s no doubt that the Lady Trojans feel Duncan’s absence on the floor. Yes, they miss the points and rebounds, but not just that.

“She’s played some minutes where she’s been banged up and hasn’t been able to do a lot,” Fisher said, “but we put her back out there just for her heart and her effort and her energy.”

In Duncan’s first game back, she set a precedent for the team right away, even though in retrospect, both Duncan and Fisher admit that she probably wasn’t ready to return.

“There was a loose ball,” Fisher said. “First thing is she gets in, and she goes diving on the ball with one leg and tries to protect her bad leg by keeping it up in the air as she dove. So I think that was a selfless act right there that kind of showed the other people, ‘Hey, if I can do this on one leg, then you guys out here that are healthy need to playing with this type of effort as well.’”

Fisher said he hopes that with four to five days of rest Duncan will be ready to return.

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Hilltopper football is now a national factor

By JIM PICKENS

Messenger-Inquirer

A second consecutive remarkable season for the Western Kentucky football program was certified on Tuesday, when the Hilltoppers were ranked No. 23 in the final USA Today Top 25 poll for the 2016-17 season.

Jeff Brohm, who departed WKU for Purdue in between the Hilltoppers’ Conference USA championship game victory over Louisiana Tech and their Boca Raton Bowl victory over Memphis, left quite a legacy during his three years as head coach.

In the last two seasons, alone, Western has gone 23-5 (.821), won a pair of Conference USA championships, and won two bowl games. And, the Hilltoppers were ranked among the nation’s Top 25 in each of those seasons by at least one major poll (No. 24 by Associated Press following the 2015-16 season).

Moreover, after going 12-2 in 2015, many college football insiders expected Western to be in somewhat of a rebuilding mode this past season. Turns out, the Hilltoppers simply reloaded — and heavily so.

By the conclusion of this past season, WKU had won 11 of 14 games, including their final eight. The Hilltoppers were at or near the top of several FBS national statistical categories, both individually and collectively.

A few of the eye-popping highlights:

• Western ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring offense at 45.5 points per game.

• The Hilltoppers led the nation in points scored with 637.

• WKU led the nation in yards per play (7.65).

• The Hilltoppers finished with 7,324 yards of total offense in 14 games; second only to national champion Clemson (7,555 yards in 15 games).

* Western senior running back Anthony “Ace” Wales led the nation in rushing touchdowns (27), scoring (13.4 points per game), total points scored (174) and total touchdowns (29).

• Hilltopper junior kickoff returner Kylen Towner led the nation with an NCAA-record 40.3 yard per return average.

• Junior quarterback Mike White, a first-year starter at WKU, finished among the nation’s top 10 in completion percentage (67.3, 3rd), passing efficiency (181.4, 3rd), passing touchdowns (37, 8th), passing yards (4,363, 5th), passing yards per game (311.6, 8th), passing yards per completion (15.58), and yards per passing attempt (10.49, 2nd).

• Additionally, the Hilltoppers were also second nationally in punt return average (17.93), second nationally in rushing defense (97.2 yards per game), and third in kickoff return average (26.67).

In the past three seasons, WKU has won 31 of 41 games (.756), with bowl victories serving as exclamation points to each.

See Pickens/Page C6

Now, a new era in Hilltopper football begins with young head coach Mike Sanford and his staff; and, of course, it is once again tempting to place Western in rebuilding mode for 2017.

Dismiss this bunch, however, at your own peril.

For, this is no longer just a pesky, scrappy, upstart team transitioning out of FCS, scratching to make their mark in FBS.

No, no, Western Kentucky University, amazingly and against the longest of odds, has become a national football program — one of the most compelling stories in all of collegiate sports in the 21st century.

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