Published 7:11 am Sunday, January 27, 2002
By By ROBBIE BYRD
Just ask the girls, they knew they could do it.
And they did.
The EA junior varsity girls basketball team are this years AISA state champions.
The girls started their road to victory long before the season even started.
"We went to a camp in July, and the girls got to play almost a full seasons worth of games during one week of camp," said J.V. Girls coach Kevin Steedley. "It really helped them learn to work as a team."
The girls started off the season with an immense amount of talent, and continued to show a strong ability to score throughout the season.
Steedley said he knew the girls were capable of winning the state championship, and that it was that encouragement he passed onto the girls that helped them win the championship.
"I tried to put a healthy expectation on our ability, but not to the point it would paralyze them," Steedley said. "I wanted them to keep relaxed and play basketball to the ability I knew they could."
The girls started the season with 4 consecutive wins, but the fifth game was a shock.
Faith Academy of Mobile took the girls down in a devastating defeat in November.
The girls had played Faith Academy before, but Steedley says they "just couldn't get the ball in the hole."
"We only made 8 out of 66 shots in that game," Steedley said. "We were ice cold."
But Steedley says the loss was a good thing for the girls.
"It was definitely a big wakeup call for us," Steedley said. "The girls were really upset and frustrated they lost, so they came back with a lot of intensity."
The season was tight before the Christmas holidays, with the girls playing 9 games in 14 days.
Before the break, the girls had another honored named to them: tournament champions at their own home turf.
The EA Tournament, held in Dec. 8 beat defending state champions Monroe Academy from Monroeville and kept the title of champions at home.
"After we won our tournament here, the girls confidence skyrocketed," Steedley said.
As school broke for the Christmas holidays, the girls capitalized on two more games to finish the year 10-1.
Steedley said when the girls returned, he wanted to give the girls a break. He was confident in their ability to bound back into the season.
"I knew we'd be able to get back into it," Steedley said.
He was right.
The girls won their next 6 games, giving them a 16-1 record. They were placed as the second seed going into the state tournament.
"Really the only close games we had during the tournament were against Faith and Monroe," Steedley said.
Coach said that during the tournament, the girls were winning on average by 20 to 25 points.
"Sometimes we were getting over 30 on the other team," Steedley said.
The girls first game of the tournament was against Montgomery's Taylor Road Academy. According to Coach Steedley, the girls came on strong and wrapped it up with a strong fourth quarter.
"We jumped on the early," Steedley said. "It was 10-5 after the first quarter. We struggled in the second and third, but pulled away in the fourth to make it 32-18."
Lori Bonds, an eighth grader, led that game with 8 points. Bonds is the leading scorer for the Lady Cougars, averaging 6 points a game.
The second game, against Pickens Academy from Carrolton, was 23-20 in the fourth quarter, but the girls stepped up to end it 31-26.
Alandris Griffin stepped up to lead the girls in scoring with 10 points for the game, 8 of which she scored in the fourth quarter.
The championship game against Edgewood Academy, the number on seed coming into the tournament was a major upset. The girls tore through Edgewood to wrap up the tournament 38-14.
Edgewood came into the tournament 16-0, but left 18-1. That one will ensure that Edgewood never forgets the Cougars aggressive offense.
Bonds scored 9 points in the game, Magan Jackson scored 8, and Griffin scored 6.
Steedley said that the girls were excited to have won the tournament, but also a little relieved.
"I think there is so much basketball tradition here that it causes a high expectation to win," Steedley said. "It's almost the norm for us to win. It was a big pressure relief for the girls as well. They knew there was a great chance for them to and they really wanted it."
Jackson and Griffin both made the All-Tournament team, a huge honor within itself.
Steedley thanked the girls for their hard work and praised them for their determination during the season.
"They just played good basketball," Steedley said. "I am very proud of them.
The team includes Bonds, Griffin, Jackson, Kerrianne Castleberry, Malory Martin, Kaylie Castleberry, Rayleen Miller, Jaime Drew, Ellen Corman, Courtney Smith, Lindsey Allen, Mandy Wright, Wynne Channell, Morgan Dorriety, Jessica Nesmith, and Katie Smith.
Steedley said he plans to continue working the girls, even after they finish up their season against Northview on Monday.
"We do a pretty good job of working them throughout the year," Steedley said. "They'll probably keep a ball in their hands most of the year, and we'll take them to a couple of camps. We will have them ready for next year."
Steedley said the staff has done a great job of support the entire basketball program, and he is thankful to be a part of it.
"Chad (Prewett, varsity coach) has done a great job developing the program," Steedley said. "He coaches these girls as much s I do.
"It was a very satisfying season and I'm excited to see where it's going to head in the future."
If the girls mimic their season next year, the girls say it's headed in the right direction.