By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The pride of the Holly Pond girls basketball team could not be derailed by a season-ending injury to one of its key seniors. A loss in the Class 3A state title game couldn’t do the trick, either.
As coach Scott Adams sat at the podium alongside Lady Bronco standouts Taylor Terry and Meg Gambrill following the defeat, each one expressed there was no other team they’d rather be a part of than Holly Pond, even if the end result was a loss in the state championship.
The sincerity of those sentiments was extremely heartwarming in a day and age where winning is often placed above all else, but hopefully, there’s at least one more squad the trio won’t mind being included on — The Times’ 2013 All-Area Girls Basketball Team.
Adams was the clear pick for Coach of the Year, while Terry was the obvious selection for Overall MVP. Gambrill rightfully earned her spot on the First Team, and Natasha Holcombe rounded out the Green and White group with a Second Team selection.
At this point in Adams’ 24-year coaching career, it’s apparent he’s a basketball man. But to those who know him off the court, Adams is also a family man, a godly man and a man of great integrity.
Yes, he strives to make the girls on his roster the best basketball players they can be, but more importantly, he plays a part in molding these girls into exceptional young women the community can be proud of.
That Green and White following might’ve never been prouder of its team than this past season, when the Broncos won their first Cullman County Tournament championship since 1997 and advanced to the school’s first-ever state title game.
Of course, Adams had his hand in Holly Pond’s successes, but he’d be the first one to give all the credit to his players. On a squad overflowing with talent at pretty much every position, Terry was the veteran leader who made her team tick.
A force in the paint and a threat from behind the arc, Terry’s contributions extended far beyond the field of play. As the only starting senior following Lexy Malone’s devastating injury in December, Terry never stopped sympathizing for her fallen teammate, but she made sure everyone knew there was still business to be done.
The 5-foot-10 forward led the Broncos’ charge through a Northeast Regional Tournament bracket full of tall teams. She wasn’t satisfied with just a regional championship, though, aiding Holly Pond in an 18-6 fourth-quarter effort to oust Straughn for a spot in the title tilt.
Hours after the championship contest, Terry composed herself and joined her sister, Haley, as winners of the girls’ 3-point shootout. The victory capped off a spectacular season that saw the senior average 14.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game to go along with All-County Tourney Team, All-Northeast Regional Tourney MVP and All-State Tourney Team honors along the way.
Gambrill heads a First Team that also includes Cold Springs’ Chloe Harbison, Good Hope’s Kayla Tillman, Cullman’s Morgan Smith and West Point’s Madison Rusk.
Despite Gambrill’s youth, Adams trusted the sophomore to run a Bronco offense that relies on ball control, good decision-making and smart shot selection. In most cases this season, the Holly Pond point guard could be counted on for all three, utilizing her length to contribute heavily on both sides of the court.
Gambrill concluded the 2012-13 campaign with averages of 9.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. She also led the Green and White in steals with 112. The sophomore joined Terry on the All-Northeast Regional Tourney and All-State Tourney teams.
For those who don’t think basketball is a contact sport, they’ve obviously never seen Harbison play for Cold Springs. The feisty junior rarely passed up an open opportunity to drive to the basket, putting her head down and challenging whoever stood in her way to create shots either for herself or her teammates.
Oftentimes, the end result for Harbison was an easy basket underneath, a smooth floater in the lane, a trip to the free-throw line or a dish out to a fellow Eagle waiting to do some damage from behind the arc.
Harbison was a crucial cog in Cold Springs’ accumulation of a 22-8 record, its ninth straight season with at least 20 wins. The Eagles held on for a one-point thriller versus No. 5 Red Bay in the regional semifinal before bowing out to Tanner in the regional title tilt.
Harbison finished with averages of 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while also providing 95 steals and 19 blocks.
It would’ve been understandable to think Tillman could struggle in her first season without Nina Mills, Kayla Elrod and Cierra Jenkins by her side, but the Good Hope sharpshooter didn’t miss a beat.
Tillman, set to join Faulkner University’s rising program next fall, was at her usual best this season, unselfishly playing just about every position imaginable at some point while the Raiders worked on creating a new identity following the departure of the three aforementioned graduates.
Point guard? Not too shabby.
Post player? Pretty impressive there, too.
Shooting guard? Now there’s where Tillman shined the most, using arguably the smoothest, most fluid followthroughs in the area to overwhelm opponents with an unmatchable ability to string together 3-pointer after 3-pointer.
Tillman completed her prep career as the best scorer to come through Good Hope, surpassing the 2,000-point career milestone late in the season. The Raiders reached the Final Four twice and the Elite Eight once during Tillman’s four-year run.
With Jorden Quick suiting up for Wallace State, and Morgan Pitts lost to graduation as well, Smith was left without a best bud to help share the load — or so it seemed at first. Instead, sophomore Baylee Johnson stepped right into an increased role to create a dynamic duo guided by Smith’s veteran experience.
Smith’s senior year was filled with more memorable moments than she could’ve asked for. She was named to the All-Tournament Team at the inaugural Yule Tide Classic and chosen for the Class 5A, All-Area 15 Team for the fourth year in a row.
Smith never shied away from clutch situations, as was evident in a Bearcat squeaker at home versus Arab. The forward sank a game-tying trey with less than a minute remaining and then swished a game-winning 3 with 4.2 seconds left to clinch a 50-49 comeback victory.
Smith scored 392 points this season — good for a 14.5-per-game average — to up her career total to 1,321. She is the school’s third all-time leading scorer, only 36 points from the top spot.
The senior did more than just score in her final go-round, compiling a stat-line of 180 rebounds (six per game), 88 assists (3.2) and 83 steals (three).
It was hard to find a hotter regular-season team than West Point after the holiday break, and Rusk was a huge reason why. The junior center dominated the paint on a nightly basis and even flashed her versatility on countless mid-range shots when they were available.
After a decent start in 2012, the Warriors came together for a strong closing statement in 2013, picking up notable wins versus Holly Pond, Cullman and Cold Springs.
Two of Rusk’s most impressive performances came against county-rival Fairview. She went off for 21 points in the first matchup and nearly matched the mark with 20 not even a month later.
The Second Team was comprised of Holly Pond’s Holcombe, Cold Springs’ Caitlyn Hall, Cullman’s Johnson, West Point’s Rachel Persall and Vinemont’s Jordan Melton.
See the complete All-Area Team below:
Overall MVP: Taylor Terry, Holly Pond
Coach of the Year: Scott Adams, Holly Pond
Meg Gambrill, Holly Pond
Kayla Tillman, Good Hope
Chloe Harbison, Cold Springs
Morgan Smith, Cullman
Madison Rusk, West Point
Jordan Melton, Vinemont
Caitlyn Hall, Cold Springs
Baylee Johnson, Cullman
Rachel Persall, West Point
Natasha Holcombe, Holly Pond
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.