You’ve heard the cliché: Big things come in small packages. I’m not sure if the phrase fits anyone better than Male High School junior Emilia Sexton. The 5-foot-4 guard has been a leading scorer for the Lady Bulldogs ever since the eighth grade and has now emerged as the preeminent leader this season.
“She may be small in stature, but she does a lot on the basketball court,” says Head Coach Champ Ligon Jr. “Every year she gets better. So we continue to rely heavily on her for scoring purposes and outside shooting. She is one of the best three-point shooters in the state. E is also a good passer. For as much scoring she does, she also gets a lot of assists. She is also one of the team leaders in steals. We count on her in pressure situations to hit key free throws and to handle the basketball. She is basically a major role in our success, and we continue to lean on her. Each year she gets a little stronger, smarter and a little bigger.”
Sexton’s mantra is, “It’s not how big you are, it’s how you play.” Being a smaller guard, it’s motivated her to outwork and perform others. As she goes, as does Male. Although the team is filled with talented players in the other four positions, she will be the gas that makes the engine go.
“This season, I strive to lead by example every day, both on and off the court,” she says. “Coming into practice with a positive attitude, encouraging my teammates and bringing energy to the floor are just a few of the things I do to lead. My coaches count on me to be an extension of them out on the court, so I am able to direct my teammates on positioning during plays and set the tone.”
As the catalyst, Sexton takes on a larger leadership role. For the past few seasons, she’s played alongside star Iliyah Green. Now that Green has departed to the University of Cincinnati, teams will be giving Emilia more attention on the defensive end. Ligon sees it as a way to get the other players involved in the offense.
“Other teams have to spend a lot of time and energy to defend E offensively, and that opens things up for our other guards and post players. She is very unselfish with the basketball. So when the defense keys on her, she gets the ball to other players and helps them to enjoy success.”
Leadership isn’t the only thing on Sexton’s agenda. This season, she looks to re-write the record books. As the year progresses, she will be closing in on 1,000 points in her high school career, positioning her to eclipse the all-time leading scoring mark in the girls’ program.
“It is very exciting. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in now without my coaches and teammates, past and present. I think it would be amazing to be the all-time leading scorer at Male, but my ultimate goal is to be an inspiration to all the future Lady Bulldogs out there,” she maintains.
So far, everything seems to moving in the right direction. Male opened the season by defeating reigning state champs Butler. It’s a rivalry between the traditional schools, and Butler has been on the winning end since Ligon’s arrival. It was last team left on a list of opponents that Male hadn’t beat in a while. Ligon says, “It was a very good win for us and gives us a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Following that, Male beat a tough Bullitt East team, also ranked in the top 10. So expectations have been rising high for the ball club. After their season was cut short last year, falling to rival Manual in the regional championship, and then getting a taste of the state tournament the prior year before losing in the semi-final, Male has been playing with a chip on their shoulder knowing there is unfinished business to handle in the state tournament.
“The seventh region is probably the most loaded region in the state,” Sexton adds. “To win the region and eventually the state championship we must play together, continue to improve and never give up. We must always remember to have fun as well. A majority of us have already been to the state tournament and know what it takes to get there.”
Offensively, Male will be a hard team to stop. But it’s safe to say on some nights, offenses seem to not show up. With Coach Ligon keeping that mind, he believes his team will have to get better on defense, rebounding and basketball IQ.
“If you look around the basketball landscape, that is one of the things that is missing a lot of time,” he adds. “Kids can run up and down the floor and jump and shoot, but they don’t have a high basketball IQ, nor do they understand game situations. But that is one area E really helps us on. She does have a high basketball IQ. As we move forward as a team – defense, rebounding and just understanding the game – that is either going to make or break us.” VT