His team had just ousted No. 8 Ashville to win the Class 3A girls Northeast Regional Tournament championship, but Holly Pond coach Scott Adams was in no hurry to leave the cozy confines of the Pete Mathews Coliseum.
“The last time we were here, we were able to make it,” he said with the widest of grins, referring to the Lady Broncos’ 2010 squad. “We love Jacksonville State.”
With the regional competition in its rear-view mirror, Holly Pond (25-5) can now look ahead to its upcoming trip to Birmingham for the Final 48. The state’s seventh-ranked squad will take the court at the BJCC on Wednesday at 3 p.m. for a semifinal matchup versus No. 9 Straughn (32-2).
From locating video to talking to fellow coaches, Adams has been doing everything in his power to find out more information about the Tigers. The search hasn’t been entirely fruitful, so he’s shifted almost all of his attention to the one thing he can control — the Broncos.
“When it comes down to it, a team that’s that far away from you (four hours south in Andalusia) and not getting a chance to see them in person, you’re going to be limited in what you know,” Adams said. “We will have to focus more on what we do, mainly prepare ourselves to play the best we can play.”
Straughn is led by senior Brittany Driver, a 5-foot-11 forward who’s only been on the team two years but already topped the 1,000-point career mark earlier this season. She was awarded All-South Regional Tournament MVP honors after racking up 15 and 22 points in the Tigers’ regional victories over Abbeville and Opp.
Holly Pond, on the other hand, can tout its own regional MVP in Taylor Terry. The 5-foot-10 senior forward is more than ready to give Driver all she’s got.
“I love the competition,” Terry said. “You try to play your defense that you’ve played all year and give your best effort.”
After Driver, Straughn’s starting rotation is filled out by four sophomores. One of those young’uns is Jacie Williamson, another 5-foot-11 forward the Tigers turn to on offense.
Taking on a team with two players approaching 6-feet would be a daunting task for most squads, but most squads didn’t just run through a regional bracket with some of the state’s best post players like the Broncos did.
Holly Pond allowed 16 points to Piedmont’s BreAnna Thompson (5’11”) and limited Ashville’s Autumn Swearengin (6’) to just 10 points.
“You don’t face many better posts than what we faced in the regional tournament,” Adams said. “Rachel (Finley) and Taylor (Terry) have really worked hard the last two games and played outstanding defense in the post.”
The Broncos generally rely on their stout defense to win ballgames but enjoyed a spectacular showing from behind the arc in the regional title tilt. Natasha Holcombe (three), Meg Gambrill (two), Taylor Rowell (two), Rachel Finley (two) and Terry (one) combined for 10 3-pointers, many of which allowed Holly Pond to seize the momentum from Ashville.
“If we’re shooting the ball well, that’s a bonus,” Adams said. “We were able in the last two games to play good defense and shoot the ball well. That combination makes the game a lot easier. If the shot’s not falling, then we want to make sure we’re playing good enough defense to keep us in it and give us a chance.”
The coach has readily been able to rely on his starting core of Terry, Gambrill, Holcombe and Rowell, but he’s also more than confident to lean on contributions from bench players like Lacy Malone, Kristen Sparks, Lexi Lynn and Kaitlyn Stephens.
Adams didn’t call on those girls at all in the regional-opener against Piedmont but subbed them in frequently in the championship versus Ashville.
“My team as a whole, they’re so unified. They’re so together. First game, we didn’t rely on the bench. The second, we did,” he said. “They’re always ready. The good thing about them is they just want to win.”
Terry is just as confident playing alongside the reserves as she is with the squad’s starters.
“I’m probably the most confident person in the world because our team has worked so hard this year,” she said. “I know that any given player on our team could come out there and play just like the starters could.”
Outside Terry, the other four starters are all either sophomores or juniors. Class standing, however, doesn’t come into play when Adams sizes up his team.
“At this point in time, it doesn’t matter if people are juniors or seniors or sophomores,” he said. “If they’ve made it this far, they’re poised, they’re good players and they can handle pressure.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.