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February 27, 2014

FINAL 48 TOURNAMENT (CLASS 3A GIRLS): Holly Pond seniors ready for one last joyride

HOLLY POND — For Holly Pond’s four seniors, their time with the Lady Broncos’ basketball program is nearing its final stage.

And what a performance they’ve doled out thus far entering Thursday’s Class 3A state semifinal game versus No. 7 Trinity Presbyterian.

Over the past two seasons, the quartet has been responsible for 60 victories — opposed to just eight losses — two county tournament crowns, a pair of area tourney titles and a genuine strangehold on the rest of the local teams they've played.

With only two games left — or so she hopes — the Green and White’s Rachel Finley can hardly believe her days of playing for Holly Pond are coming to a bittersweet close.

"It’s been a great year,” the senior said. “We’ve been working hard all season, and we are so close to accomplishing our goals together. You don’t want to say it’s nearly over, but it really is. Every moment from here on out counts more than ever.”

Finley, along with fellow teammates Taylor Rowell, Kristen Sparks and Natasha Holcombe are all entering what could be the final moments of their storied careers.

She and Holcombe are two of the Broncos’ best scorers and rebounders  — along with Meg Gambrill — while Rowell does a little bit of everything for her team. Sparks, on the other hand, has given plenty of solid minutes off the bench over the years.

No one is likely to miss that tremendous production more so than Scott Adams.

The longtime Green and White coach has been able to rely on the foursome for as long as he can remember and lamented he has no doubts whatsoever on how much they’ll be missed from next year’s roster.

“This group has been a joy to coach,” Adams said. “They’ve all improved so much. I miss my seniors every season, because I have such great relationships with all of them. We have had a lot of terrific seniors come through here that you do not want to let go, but you know it has to happen. It’s the way it goes.”

Finley, Rowell and Holcombe have been on display for almost the entire season. Finley grabbed a career-high 27 points and 10 boards in the Broncos’ 67-51 Northeast Regional final win against Plainview to secure herself as one of the best players around the county and the state. Rowell notched 10 points to go along with several key tipped passes and offensive boards, while Holcombe battled through lower back pain to pull down a career-high 15 rebounds in the state-sealing victory.

Those who’ve seen Holly Pond play all season know its game versus Plainview was simply a microcosm of the ‘13-14 campaign — where the Green and White has won a school-record 31 and 11 consecutive entering Thursday’s matchup.

They don’t plan on stopping there, either.

“We have been playing together since middle school,” Sparks said of her fellow seniors. “It’s great to be able to get back to Birmingham one more time. It’s been a wonderful ride for us all, and we want to go out with a bang.”

Added Rowell: “We spend a lot of time together on and off the court. It’s been a blessing for me to have been able to do all of these things — going to state, playing basketball — with my best friends.

Added Holcombe: “It’s nice to know that all of our hard work has paid off over the years. It’s been great for us as seniors to be good examples for all the young players behind us. We want to go out Thursday and Saturday and leave it all on the court.”

There’s no doubt the seniors — and the whole squad — are locked and loaded for their potential life-changing games over the next three days.

While Adams said it’s impossible to name a favorite senior class because “they’re all special to me,” he did acknowledge there was something simply great about this one.

Whether or not that translates into a state championship on Saturday remains to be seen. However, the coach will definitely be their biggest fan when the lights shine bright and the shots go up at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

“You absolutely want to see your seniors succeed.” he said. "You want the ones you currently have to go out on top. Really, though, you want them to have a wonderful experience playing basketball and you want them to become greater women being a part of this program.

"I hope they will carry all these memories and those character traits on into their lives.”

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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