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Girls basketball: South hires Conner to coach Lady Dragons

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By Brad Stephens

South Oldham has selected its new girls basketball coach after a two-month search.

Jessica Conner has been hired to coach the Lady Dragons, athletic director Mitchell Irvin told the Era Thursday. Conner takes over for Christy Higdon, who resigned in May after two years on the job.

“She was clearly the best candidate for the position we had,” Irvin said. “I think she'll do a real good job.”

Conner is a Barbourville native who played college basketball at IUPUI. She coached AAU teams in Indiana and had a stint as head coach at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.

She and her husband, Aaron, moved to La Grange last year. Her day job is in sales.

“I never really thought about coaching in Oldham County, just not knowing anybody,” Conner said. “I'm very, very blessed this opportunity came up.”

South's coaching search took nearly the entire summer after Higdon resigned almost three months after the 2013-14 season ended.

Originally the school looked for candidates that could also teach math, science and Spanish, Irvin said. That search eventually expanded to include coach-teachers in other subject areas.

But there weren't any ideal coach-teacher fits, so South administration opened the job to coaches who weren't teachers. Six candidates were interviewed throughout the search process, Irvin said.

“We realized about two weeks ago that we're getting close to school time,” Irvin said. “Most of our teaching spots had been filled and we weren't getting any qualified applicants that could do both.”

Conner was originally interested in an assistant’s position with the Lady Dragons. The program's tradition was a key factor in her wanting to coach in Crestwood, she said.

South won the District 29 Tournament every year from 2008-09 to 2012-13. Oldham County broke that streak by beating the Lady Dragons 50-43 this February in Goshen in the district title.

“One of the things that's exciting is they've had a run here with the district tournament and being champion year after year so it's exciting to know you've got some shoes to fill,” Conner said. “You want to be successful and continue to do that. But you also want to win a regional championship so you can get to state and make those girls' dreams come true.”

Conner was a post player at Knott County Central and IUPUI. She said it'll be an adjustment coaching the speed-oriented team South brings back this season.

The Lady Dragons' three top players are senior point guard Abbey Van Zant and senior wing players Sydney Jones and Erin Wilson.

“It sounds like I have more of a fast team that I'm walking into,” Conner said. “I think we'll probably be running a lot.”

South played a full summer league schedule this June even without a coaching staff. Jones' parents did most of the coaching, Irvin said.

“I know they've been working hard this summer to continue on that pace even without a coach in place,” Conner said. “I think that shows a lot about their dedication... That makes me excited about what we have in front of me.”

The first few weeks of practice will be about building trust and teamwork, Conner said. The team may not pick up a basketball until a week into practice, she added.

Her husband will be one of her assistants. Conner said she's looking at other assistants to round out her staff, especially some that work at South and are “in the building” during the day since she isn't.

“We're excited to be part of an awesome community,” Conner said, “and grow something and hopefully to enhance what's already there.”