Hardwork, teamwork pays off for JV squad
By By Paul Keane
With three starters gone from last year's state championship team, the chance of repeating the feat was a challenge for Escambia Academy's junior varsity girls team. With a trifecta of victories last weekend in Camden, though, the Lady Cougars defied the odds and pulled off the trick.
Taking the No. 4 seed in the invitational tournament in Camden, EA topped Pickens Academy, 34-10, then downed Autauga Academy, 37-20, before taking the state title with a 40-35 win over Patrician Academy.
The three-game sweep marked the second year in a row the Lady Cougars have earned the JV state title in AISA action. Head coach Kevin Steedley said he was pleased with the way his team came together throughout the season.
"We lost three starters off last year's team, and we had no real strong presence in the post to begin the year," he said. "The thing about these girls, though, is that they were hungry and they had a desire to win. On top of that, four of the five starters have been playing together for three years now, so that experience helped us."
Only eight teams from around the state were invited to the Class 1A-2A tournament in Camden, and only the top four teams are seeded, with EA earning the lowest of those seeds.
Steedley said he felt confident heading into the tournament because of the schedule his girls worked through en route to an 11-3 mark heading into the tournament.
"Our scheduled helped us a lot this year," he said. "Our losses this year came before Christmas, and two of those were to Faith Academy, which won the Class 3A title this year, so we felt like our schedule had prepared us for a run.
"And we faced the No. 1 seed, Autauga Academy, in the second game on Saturday and they were undefeated. They were the top team going in, but we felt like they had not played as tough of a schedule as we had, so we felt pretty good going into that game.
"The girls were a little nervous going into the first game against Pickens, but they calmed down quickly and then it just became a matter of playing our type of game."
That style of play this year included a 1-2-1 zone press that Steedley said, "gave a lot of teams problems. We had a lack of size this year, but we made up for it with hustle and team play."
Against Pickens in the opening round, Alison Thomas led the scoring with 12 points, followed by Lori Bonds with 10, Jamie Drew with six, Claire Jones with three, Courtney Smith with two and Ellen Corman with a point.
Against top-seeded Autauga Academy, Bonds led the way with 11 points, followed by Thomas' six, Courtney Smith's five and Katie Smith's point. Bonds also pulled down 11 rebounds in the contest.
In the title tilt, the Lady Cougars hit a blistering 47 percent from the field, their best percentage in a single game all season long. Bonds and Courtney Smith led the team with 11 points each, with Thomas adding eight, Drew pouring in five, Morgan Dorriety adding three points and Corman contributing two points. Drew also collected five steals and four assists in the game.
Steedley said the balanced attack was the case all season long, as EA averaged 30.6 points per game while allowing only 20.5. Bonds scored more than 200 points, averaging 11 points per game, while Thomas in her first year at the academy averaged 5.5 points per game, Courtney Smith poured in four points per contest, Drew added 5.5 points per game from her point guard position and Corman contributed two points a game while also providing a rebounding and defensive presence for the squad.
Other members of the team include Dorriety, Katie Smith, Holly Harrison, Claire Jones, Levy Daniel, Eva Currie, Leighann Everrett, Caitlyn Luttrell, Candace Perkins and Marianna Woods.
Steedley said it was a total team effort all season long that led to the repeat championship. He added that assistant coach Larry Bonds was a huge asset to this year's squad.
"During the summer, we had a camp here at the school, and all the girls attended," he said. "Then, we had eight or nine players go to a team camp at Troy State. They really worked hard.
"If any of the team plans on winning three in a row, it's going to take just as much hard work. It's going to take a lot to three-peat."