Another high school basketball season is coming to a close in North Alabama. It seems like only yesterday we were doing preseason interviews and reviewing the seasons our local teams had in 2017-2018. With the end of the season here, I thought I would share some observations I had from this season.
As Expected- Neither I nor Chuck profess to be experts. However, we do get predictions right from time to time. Before the season began, we had a feeling the Rogers Lady Pirates had a really good chance to take over 4A Area 16 this year. The return of players like Gabby Davis and Gloria Pounders pointed in that direction. Add the phenomenal freshmen duo of Maddie Krieger and Erin Brown to the mix and you have a team that has a chance to make a run in Hanceville. The key to this year’s team success? Depth and defense.
Disrespected- I am at fault here. To be honest, I thought Brooks Varsity Boys success last season was a bit of a fluke and there was no way they could repeat it this season. I WAS WRONG. This team has proven for a second consecutive year that the foundation laid by Mike Willis lives on in Killen. This team, on paper, is really not that eye catching. They don’t have a 6’9” post, the fastest player in the area, or a next level, dead eye scorer. But man, this team does all the little things better than most. They defend well, wait for a good shot, and limit opponents second chance opportunities with fantastic rebounding. Oh, and the fans are the most passionate group I’ve seen all season.
Unknown- Heading into this season, our expectations for the Deshler Varsity Boys were high; and warranted. They had a phenomenal run in the post season last year and brought back studs like J.P. Robinson and Kevon Summerhill. But to be honest, this team has been tough to figure out. You can see the talent all over the place and their 20+ win season backs up our expectations, but the loss of Avery Sears left a bit of a hole when it comes to a second or third scorer. This team has all the pieces to repeat the same success they had in the postseason last year. However, a loss to Lauderdale County in the Bracey invitational brought up questions among some in the basketball community. Consider this a challenge Tigers. I believe in you, but someone will need to take their game to the next level as we close in on subregion games.
Most Dominate- No one can say they are shocked that Florence is good. They brought back plenty of talent from last year’s team- talent that is backed up with size and length. What you can say though, is that you didn’t expect them to be THIS good. It took a month for them to lose their first game. They have only lost three to this point in the season. They ran through the toughest competition like a scrimmage. It has been dunk city all season. This team is the best high school team I’ve seen since I began covering sports, and I expect their domination to continue.
Underrated- For years the constants in life have been death, taxes, and Deshler winning state championships under Jana Killen. This year, we expected them to take a bit of a step back after losing talents like Taylor Aikerson and Karleigh Sledge. Even with the odds seemingly against them, this team quietly put together a 20 win season. Led by senior PG Abbi Holley, this team has a lot of noise left to make. The loss of junior guard Shamari Thirlkill has had an effect; yet they still have talent all over the floor. They have young talent as well. Jana Killen and the Tigers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
On the Come Up- One of my favorite things about high school basketball is that there will inevitably be a team or two that comes out of nowhere. These two teams are in that lane, and have their best basketball in front of them. The Sheffield Bulldogs under Pervis Key went from a seven win season last season to a 17+ win this year. Players like Devin Doss, AJ Cherry, and Rodney Goodman had a huge hand in helping turn this team around.
The other team on the come up is the Covenant Christian Eagles. I expected them to have success this season; I just wasn’t sure how much. Behind the hot shooting Griffins and Vesses, this team under Brett Waldrep has put together a special season. Oh, and they only have one senior. Expect big things from these two teams over the next few seasons.
Overcoming the Odds- Allie Craig Cruce, Jaide Ellick, Tamia Watkins, KB Llewellyn, Haiden Olive, Sadie McIntyre, Caroline Parker, and Maggie Covington all graduated from LCHS after last season. The only players with significant starting experience that returned this season were Hannah Tate (who was out half the season with a knee injury), and Sydney Maner. One could argue that this is the most impressive coaching job Brant Llewellyn has done in quite some time. This is not because his team doesn’t have talent, but because he lost so many key contributors from last season’s squad. Even with all these factors, this team has been impressive. The Tigers are once again 3A Area 16 champions. The Tigers will be playing in a subregion game. This team is exciting to watch and deserves all respect.
Most Improved- 4-19. That was the record for Jake Herrera’s Bears in his first season as head coach at Lexington High. They improved to 7-20 this season. Some people may look and see a three win improvement and say that is nothing to mention, but after seeing this year’s team, the improvement is obvious. Coach Herrera wanted to get his team away from the slow, half-court style offense and look towards a more fast paced, run and gun. They embraced their new offense during his second year, and stepped up the pressure on defense. This team, though not reflected in the wins and losses category, is vastly improved. Let’s see how that carries over to next season.
Biggest Surprise- I don’t use this term often, but prior to this season the Muscle Shoals Varsity Girls underachieved. “How could you have a nationally ranked player and not have more success?” This season however. something clicked. The Lady Trojans turned a corner midway through the season and have been on a tear ever since. They are 13-1 in their last 14 regular season games. Dazja Hankins and Sara Puckett are tearing it up. The biggest improvement, to me, has been the guard play of J’Myia Lipscomb and Fallon Halley. They really stepped it up mid season and use their speed to their advantage. This is not the same ole’ Muscle Shoals Trojans team, that’s for sure.
Most Well Rounded- I love the Muscle Shoals Varsity Boys. This team has everything you’re looking for in a 6A basketball team. They have a star in Mark Sears, big guys who can play inside and out in Nick Griffith and Mikey McIntosh, role guys who play their role well in Greg Flint and Jahmai Devonish, and fire power off the bench. Neal Barker is a great coach, and this team has my utmost respect.
It’s been a great season. Subregion play is here, followed by trips to Hanceville. Who will make the biggest splash at Wallace State?