For Lady Eagles coach Bob Westbrook, a wealth of returning talent will be key in seeing his team return to their form of two years ago, when they won 23 games and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
But for that to happen, Westbrook says last year’s underclassmen will have to step up their game.
“Last year, we were very young. We had to plug a lot of freshman into the lineup, because, the year before that, we graduated all five of our starters,” said Westbrook, whose team finished 8-18 last year. “The hope is that our young girls from last year will have grown up and be ready to really contribute.”
Of Westbrook’s potential starters, only one — Scottlyn James — is a senior. Leading the way will be last year’s leading scorer, sophomore Tori Janos.
Also expected to see time in the lineup are Shakyna Payne, Savannah Smith, Maya Knighty, Taylor Kimber and Jenny Karpowhich.
Etowah will also benefit from Alexis Jackson, a transfer from Marietta.
“With the transfer included, we really are eight or nine players deep,” Westbrook said.
Offensively, Westbrook said not to expect anything different than their usual fast-break style.
“Since I stared coaching here 12 years ago, that has been the only way we have played,” he said. “We’re going to run-and-gun, play fast and hope to force some turnovers.”
While Westbrook will benefit from a core group of players with some experience under their belts, boys coach Don Hurlburt will find himself much in the same situation that Westbrook found himself over a year ago, with a squad filled mostly by underclassmen.
“We graduated seven seniors from last year. This year, we have no seniors on the team,” said Hurlburt, who is entering his 10th year at Etowah. “This is the youngest team I’ve ever had as a head coach. It’s also the smallest team I’ve ever had.”
Despite his side’s shortcomings, Hurlburt expressed his enthusiasm for the coming year.
“I’m more excited for this season than I have been in seven or eight years,” said Hurlburt, whose squad finished last year 9-17. “We have a group of kids that have great attitudes on and off the floor. They are very competitive and come ready to work.”
Much like Westbrook, Hurlburt will also be running an offense that is meant to thrive in transition, as well as a defense that will look to press.
Hurlburt will be starting with five juniors on the court — Adam Hogue, Ty Cohen, Cole Dotson, Jack Shaughnessy and Destin Porche.
Both of Etowah’s teams will open their seasons Nov. 27 at Pope.