Young but talented
Front row, from left, Ali Golden, Morgan Sims, Michaela Clark, Tara Cates, Kara Smith, Bethany Hill; second row, Jordan Sells, coach Lisa Elrod, Taylor Elrod, Caylee McLennan, coach Brandon Childers, Holly Wortman, Jacey Dudeck, and coach Bob Robertson.
With a roster consisting of two sophomores, five freshman and five eighth graders, it’s not a farfetched statement to say that the Huntland High School girls’ basketball team had the youngest varsity lineup in the state of Tennessee.
Coach Brandon Childers held the rein of what he said was “by far,” the youngest team he has ever coached.
From the beginning optimism wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of coach Childers’ mind.
Basketball season, contrary to popular belief, begins in the summer as teams attempt to build comradery.
Childers told me that he went into the summer circuit knowing the possibility that his team might not win a game.
“We’ll play to get better, not worry about wins and losses over the summer.” Childers said of the summer ball games.
To his pleasant surprise the girls began to string some wins together, proving they were capable of competing at the varsity level against older and matured teams.
Childers admitted that he was still a little weary of the upcoming regular season schedule that lied ahead.
Can you blame him?
A 13 or14-year-old’s freshman year is supposed to be a year of transition, and not just as an athlete.
Over half of coach Childers players were in the midst of taking on their very first year of high school, with all the pressures and stresses that come along with it.
The other half of the team, consisting of eighth graders, was entrenched into their middle school basketball season.
Early on sophomores Holly Wortman and Jacey Dudeck were looked at to fill leadership roles as the oldest two players on the squad.
A Nov. 12 game against Culleoka tipped-off the season for the Lady Hornets and showed the first reason for optimism.
In a 49-42 victory, three Lady Hornets scored in double digits.
Freshman Ali Golden led the way with 15 points, just a sign of what was to come.
Golden went on to have a season most seniors’ dream of.
The very next game Golden scored a game high 26 points, and went on to score double-digits through 13 consecutive games, including a 30-point performance against rival Moore County.
This reporter was truly impressed and shocked at the freshman’s performances, and apparently I wasn’t the only one.
“She surprised me by how much she’s improved over the course of the year,” Childers answered when asked about Golden’s stat sheet stuffing performances.
Golden received playing time on varsity as an eighth grader a year ago, but was more of a role player according to coach Childers.
In her second year of varsity play, Golden took more of an assertive role and became the team’s leading scorer.
“We have to rely on her scoring 20 points each night,” Childers said.
Soon into the season Golden’s senior level playing style was matched with senior level respect from opposing teams, garnering double-teams nearly every game.
Huntland freshman Ali Golden led the Lady Hornets in scoring this year nearly averaging 20 points per contest. Only twice all season did Golden not score double-digits. In this file photo, Golden drives the lane for the first two points of the game.
Through the first six regular season games the Lady Hornets showed fans why the future is very bright, compiling a 4-2 record to begin the season.
Golden wasn’t the only phenomenal freshman on the floor for the Lady Hornets.
After an injury scare just before the season, freshman Tara Cates quickly established herself as a starter and second scorer for the Lady Hornets.
Battling a little bit of inconsistency, Cates averaged eight points a game for the Lady Hornets this season. When she was on rhythm shooting the ball she rarely missed, which made for her season high in scoring with a 24-point game.
As the middle school season came to an end, Huntland found the third scorer they had needed in eighth grader Caylee McLennan.
Although she played every game except for two, it wasn’t till later in the season, when she could fully focus on varsity did McLennan find a groove.
The youngest starter on the team, McLennan, finished the season averaging eight points and six rebounds per game.
“Her potential is through the roof.” Said Childers when speaking about McLennan.
Childers also spoke on how technically sound a player McLennan already is, at such a young age.
As the season went on sophomore Wortman solidified herself as a great rebounder in the post, averaging nearly eight boards a game.
Nearly every player on the lineup contributed and provided quality minutes.
Freshman Michaela Clark started and played in several games this year, and even showed off some ability shooting the ball, scoring 11 points against Fayetteville late in the season.
Other names that should catch Hornet fans eyes in the seasons to come are freshman Morgan Sims, and eighth grader Kara Smith who each scored at least two points in over half the team’s games this year.
In all 11 players entered games for the Lady Hornets this year, with 10 of them scoring a minimum one two points.
Things unfortunately didn’t go as planned as the season came to its conclusion with the Lady Hornets falling in the first round of the District 9-A tournament, but the team did eclipse 10 wins, going 11-17 on the season.
Good news is the Lady Hornets won’t be losing any players and that has to have the Hornet fan base, and coach Childers, happy.
“I’ve been really pleased, and I think the future looks bright.” Childers said of his young, but talented team.
Moving forward a few Lady Hornets will look to continue their development.
Golden finished the season averaging 19 points per game, but Childers said there are still plenty of areas the standout freshman can improve in.
“She knows one speed right now, and that’s wide open.” Childers commented.
He also mentioned that Golden’s defensive game would be a developing point moving forward.
As Cates, McLennan, Wortman, Clark, Sims, Smith, and the rest of the team continue to develop their games, Huntland could be looking at a dominant team in a matter of two years.
However, if this year taught the fans anything, it’s that this group of talented young athletes may not need as much time as expected.
Those who didn’t make it out to a Lady Hornets basketball game this year, quite frankly, missed out.
The good news is everyone still has a few more years to see this talented team in action.