Coming off a season where they won four games, and with a new coach taking over the program, a season of learning, growth, and building for the future might have been the goals for most basketball teams.
Add in a pandemic-affected offseason where teams weren’t able to have their usual summer or fall workouts, and you can see the challenges that awaited new coach Kenny Hill and the Guntersville girl’s basketball team.
Instead, the team quickly came together and went from 4-19, to 23-7 and a regular season area title, along with an area tournament title, and a trip to the regional semifinals.
Coach Hill said that despite all the challenges that the team faced in getting ready for the season, it was the players who made it easy on him, and made this season’s turnaround possible.
“It’s always tough but you have to get the players to buy in,” Hill said of taking over a rebuilding team, something he’s done before in his stops at Enterprise, Daphne, Scottsboro, and now Guntersville. “Usually that doesn’t happen in the first year, I was lucky to have a couple girls who moved in from Albertville that were used to winning, and my daughter moved in and she was used to winning, and you mix that with what was already here. Even though we were young, it made it a lot easier because they were hungry for greatness. It really made my job easier because I didn’t have to coach motivation, and they were young and have young ears that were willing to listen and learn.”
While the season may have come to an end Thursday night at the hands of Birmingham-Carver, Hill said that he saw growth from every player this season, and that an early-season tournament in Hazel Green was an indicator of things to come.
At the tournament, where Hill said they hoped to get the two games in just to get the team some games, the girls put together a running clock win, a rarity for the team in recent years, and something they had been on the other side of more often.
From that showing, and even in close losses against bigger teams that were traditional powers, the team only continued to flourish.
“I was nervous about going out there just because of the psyche of the program, I said, ‘Just give us two games,’” Hill said of that early tournament. “But I thought we couldn’t have got two better games. We went in there and got a running clock win and everybody had been on the other end of that, and it built confidence. And as we kept going and we won and won, I think our confidence was through the roof. It was just building from there, and every bit of adversity we had, we handled it.”
As for the future of the program, the team does lose valuable seniors including Jayden Watkins and Sarah Campbell, who Hill credited with being key leaders on this young team, but does return a number of young stars like soon-to-be sophomore Tazi Harris, two more years of sharpshooter Olivia Vandergriff, and three years of Ivey Marsh and Brylee Hill. With that talent returning, and hopefully a full offseason to get better, the future appears bright for the program.
“It’s bright,” Hill said of the program’s future. “The truth is, we have to get to work though. We have some girls who will be playing travel ball, but we have to turn these young girls into seasoned vets. We need to get in the weight room and get stronger.
“We’ll rest and recover, and then we’ll come back ready to go. We’ll need a good summer, and that’s the thing I’m excited about with this team, we didn’t really have a true summer to work and get better and play other teams, so hopefully this summer we can have a true summer, see some colleges and build some chemistry with the new group, and we’ll see where it takes us.”