By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
For two girls’ basketball programs that have flourished over the past two seasons, it might have seemed odd to see recent county powers, Cullman and Good Hope, start out their 2012 campaigns with records of 1-3 and 1-6, respectively.
However, with the loss of key contributors and tough schedules to boot, that’s exactly what happened to the Bearcats and Raiders.
But as the old saying goes, it’s not how you start but how you finish.
And with the recent string of victories both teams have procured over the past few weeks, the finish could be quite strong.
Cullman coach Jonathan Hayes had one word to describe the turnaround for his team.
“Resiliency,” he said. “A lot of these games we have won lately, we’ve trailed at some point. But, being down doesn’t phase them and that’s good to see as a coach.”
The Bearcats have reeled off eight wins in their past 11 games, improving to 9-6 overall with a 3-0 mark in area play.
One year after finishing 28-7 with a Northwest Regional Finals appearance, the Bearcats are in prime position to win their first area title during Hayes’ tenure, despite losing four starters from last years’ team.
“That’s our goal,” he said. “We want to host an area championship, and we want to win it.”
The Bearcats’ improvement has been sparked by the spectacular play of sophomore guard Baylee Johnson, who’s averaged just over 18 points per game this season
Her counterpart, senior Morgan Smith, has averaged 14 points a contest while playing terrific defense as well.
“The play of Baylee has been tremendously consistent,” Hayes said. “She’s a big reason we’ve been playing better, along with Morgan’s defense and rebounding.”
Hayes didn’t limit his teams’ recent run to just those two, though.
“Bench play has been great, too,” Hayes said. “Hayden Short has to be averaging eight or nine rebounds a game. The play of Blair (Nall), Emily (Tucker), Oakleigh (White) and others has been solid. We’ve also been able to get these younger girls some playing time that will be beneficial down the road.”
Just down the road from Cullman, the Good Hope girls’ have also put together a run of their own.
The Lady Raiders have won 11 of their past 14 contests and are currently riding an eight-game winning streak.
Good Hope defeated Hayden 48-46 on Saturday to win its third-straight Hayden Christmas Classic title.
“We had a tough start with four new starters,” coach Michael Oldacre said. “There was a lot of inexperience, especially with handling the basketball. We’ve had seniors step up, though. Kayla (Tillman), Darcie (Wilson) and Cara (Goodwin) have shown great leadership during the season.
The Raiders, like Cullman, have a perfect 3-0 area record.
Oldacre added that although his team has played better recently, he still sees room for improvement.
“We are definitely improving, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We will see how much progress we have made in our next game against Holly Pond.”
Despite the early-season struggles, Oldcare praised his team’s perseverance.
“The attitudes have been great,” he said. “This group has came to practice and worked hard every day. When you see that in your players, it’s no surprise to you that they’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Cullman’s holiday break will come to a close when it hosts Muscle Shoals on Thursday, while Good Hope won’t return until Jan. 7 at home versus Holly Pond.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.